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What you need to know before the PWHL playoffs

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The Professional Women's Hockey League begins its first-ever postseason Wednesday.

The league commenced play on Jan. 1 and completed its 24-game regular season Sunday, leaving four teams vying for the PWHL title.

Here's everything you need to know before the puck drops for the playoffs.

Who's playing?

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Toronto, Montreal, Boston, and Minnesota are the four teams that made the postseason.

No. 1 seed Toronto boasts numerous Team Canada members. General manager Gina Kingsbury and head coach Troy Ryan are in the same roles with the Canadian women's national squad, and that shows in the roster they've built. Star players include league-leading scorer Natalie Spooner, Sarah Nurse, Renata Fast, and captain Blayre Turnbull, among others.

Marie-Philip Poulin, the best player in the game, headlines Montreal. Despite missing three contests, Poulin still finished second in league scoring. She's joined in Montreal by fellow Canadian stars Laura Stacey, Erin Ambrose, and Ann-Renee Desbiens.

American stars Hilary Knight, Megan Keller, and Aerin Frankel are surrounded by international talent in Boston. The team's roster has six different countries represented, including Switzerland's Alina Muller, Canada's Jamie Lee Rattray, and Finland's Susanna Tapani.

Minnesota GM Natalie Darwitz wanted the "State of Hockey" to be well represented on her team. Minnesota's squad consists of 10 players born in the state, most notably first overall pick Taylor Heise, captain Kendall Coyne Schofield, two-way stalwart Kelly Pannek, and lockdown defender Lee Stecklein.

What's the PWHL's trophy?

PWHL teams are vying for the Walter Cup. The 35-pound trophy, unveiled on April 4, is named after the league's primary financial backers, Mark and Kimbra Walter.

"The Walter Cup marks a monumental milestone in women's hockey and for all women's sports," Billie Jean King said. "It recognizes the historic commitment by Mark and Kimbra Walter to make this dream come true for the PWHL players of today and tomorrow."

What's the format?

Each PWHL playoff series is a best-of-five. The higher seed plays two home contests before the series switches to the lower seed's arena for two games if needed. The sides play a potential deciding Game 5 at the higher seed's home rink.

A unique wrinkle to the PWHL playoffs is that the No. 1 seed chooses to face either the No. 3 or No. 4 ranked team in the semifinals. Toronto opted to play No. 4 Minnesota, leaving No. 2 Montreal to take on No. 3 Boston.

When are the games and how can I watch?

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The PWHL playoffs start Wednesday in Toronto at Coca-Cola Coliseum. Montreal hosts Boston at Place Bell on Thursday. The two series will never overlap.

Toronto (1) vs. Minnesota (4)

Game Date Time (ET) Home Team
1 May 8 7 p.m. Toronto
2 May 10 7 p.m. Toronto
3 May 13 8 p.m. Minnesota
4* May 15 8 p.m. Minnesota
5* May 17 7 p.m. Toronto

Montreal (2) vs. Boston (3)

Game Date Time (ET) Home Team
1 May 9 7 p.m. Montreal
2 May 11 7 p.m. Montreal
3 May 14 7 p.m. Boston
4* May 16 7 p.m. Boston
5* May 19 7 p.m. Montreal

Games are available on TSN and RDS in Canada and regionally in the United States on NESN and Bally Sports North. MSG Networks will broadcast select contests. Games will also be streamed without restriction on the PWHL's YouTube channel.

For more analysis of the two series, check out theScore's breakdown of the semifinal matchups.

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