The Toronto Maple Leafs have a crucial week ahead. Something very special is on the horizon that could impact the future of the franchise. It might actually be one of those “defining moments” in franchise history things.

On Thursday, the Maple Leafs will play Game 5 of the first-round playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In this post, I want to spend a little time exploring what the stakes are for this upcoming week. What might happen if the Maple Leafs actually do succeed?

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Maple Leafs’ Stakes Have Never Been Higher

Obviously, the world won’t end if the Maple Leafs win or lose this series with the Lightning. That said, the stakes for the Maple Leafs are higher than they’ve been in a long time. And the impact of this series might be team-altering in several ways. Certainly, the franchise’s direction will be decided by the end of the weekend.

The Maple Leafs are at a crossroads with its current management and team. After six consecutive first-round playoff losses, general manager Kyle Dubas is sitting on an expiring contract. At the same time, the core players’ contracts are expiring. It’s not too much to suggest that the team’s future direction and philosophical foundation will be determined by the result of this series.

Maple Leafs Can Lose Their Demons With a Single Win, But Really Is That Enough?

The Maple Leafs have had six failed chances in a row to advance to the second round of the playoffs. Winning just one round this year would be enough to relieve the pressure off the players, coaches, and management. The current narrative around this team is that they’re losers. They can’t get out of the first round.

Can Auston Matthews lead his Maple Leafs’ team to a series win?

That said, winning one round would immediately change that narrative. However, it wouldn’t change everything. I might be alone in that I want this team to go through all the great teams this season to get to the Stanley Cup Final. I want the Boston Bruins next. If this team is truly going to be a team of destiny, why take the easy way to the Cup?

Related: The Good, Bad & Ugly: Maple Leafs’ Miracle Game 4 Win in Tampa

Maple Leafs Need to Keep Up the Spunk

Unlike the iconic episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” where Lou Grant (played by Edward Asner) tells Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore): “You know what? You’ve got spunk… I hate spunk!”

While this line has become iconic and is often quoted in popular culture, it isn’t true for this Maple Leafs’ team. The Maple Leafs have already exorcised some of their demons and shown some spunk by rebounding after a Game 1 loss. They’ve also shown spunk in coming from behind in both Game 3 and Game 4. The team now has taken a 3-1 series lead. That’s pretty spunky.

They seem to be in charge; but, given that this Lightning team won’t quit, it’s far from a done deal. They need similar spunk to close out this series and advance to the second round. This team needs to embrace the confidence that comes from engaging this “spunk.” They need to keep on keeping on.

Time to Close Out This Series and Send the Lighting Home

Today in The Hockey Writers, my Maple Leafs’ colleague Alex Hobson wrote a nice post titled “Maple Leafs Staring Down Barrel of a Franchise-Altering Weekend.” In the post, Hobson noted that the team was facing a franchise-altering weekend.

He wrote that winning the first-round playoff series against the Lightning could change everything for the franchise. Maybe he overstated it a bit, but such is the life of a Maple Leafs’ fan. This is important stuff.

If the team can deliver, it can do what it hasn’t done for so many seasons – now. It can advance to the second round.

Honestly, however, that isn’t enough for me. I’m looking forward to a longer Stanley Cup journey. Now that’s spunky!

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