Outscoring their visitors by four tries to two, the Hurricanes maintained their spot at the top of the table by defeating the Crusaders 29-23 in Wellington.
Even some struggles at the line-out couldn't stop the Hurricanes from picking up their ninth win from ten games this year.
A battle between potential All Black fly-halves as Beauden Barrett took on Colin Slade and Dan Carter, all three players made an impact in the first-half with tries but it was the younger contenders who kept the record Test points scorer in the shade.
Making the decision between those three for the World Cup, along with Lima Sopoaga, is going to take up a lot of Steve Hansen's time, although Barrett's withdrawal with a knee injury ten minutes from the end will have caused real concern.
The Crusaders knew coming into Saturday that victory was fundamental if they were to keep their hopes of making the play-offs alive – or face missing out on the knockout stages for the first time in 14 years. That now feels like more of a reality for the seven-time champions with the wildcard spots slipping away.
Spurred on by that ominous outcome the visitors started brightly, with Slade showing plenty of cutting edge when he slid through the Hurricanes defence before feeding Carter on his inside for a simple score inside two minutes.
Few sides have kept the Hurricanes quiet though this season and Barrett was sharp enough to swoop on a loose ball with the Crusaders up in attack, racing away from 80 metres out to score as he showed off his impressive pace.
Barrett's try gave his team an injection of confidence ahead of their next attack, a string of passes involving Nehe Milner-Skudder and Ardie Savea putting Brad Shields in space to score a second try in three minutes.
Slade failed with a penalty attempt to close the gap but the Crusaders got a break when Ma'a Nonu was sin-binned for hands in the ruck to leave the Hurricanes down to 14 men for the rest of the first-half.
Spotting more space in the home side's defence, Slade ran almost a copycat line to breakthrough and then had the power to bounce out of Julian Savea's challenge for the Crusaders second try. Coming not long after he converted a penalty, the Crusaders went into the lead.
Barrett though had the final say before half-time with a three-pointer off the tee to leave things all tied up at 17-17.
Savea looked to have made amends for his missed tackle on Slade earlier when he crashed over from close range, but the referee ruled the score out for double movement despite replays suggesting the television match official may have disagreed.
Slade struck with a second penalty to put the visitors back into the lead as the home fans grew frustrated, but they were soon back on their feet.
Reggie Goodes finished off a sustained multi-phase attack started by Barrett's speed once more, with most of the players getting a carry before the prop powered his way to the line.
A third penalty from Slade cut the gap to just a point but it was counterpart Barrett who fired up yet another Hurricanes attack, even if a tap tackle prevented him from making a big dent in the defence.
Instead the ball was recycled and TJ Perenara's wide pass for Blade Thomson sent the replacement over in the corner for the bonus-point try to make it 29-23.
Barrett departed with a knee injury as the Hurricanes maintained that six-point advantage with the clock winding down, as the Crusaders tried to battle their way upfield but without success despite a valiant effort at the end.
Tries: Barrett, Shields, Goodes, Thomson
Cons: Barrett 3
Yellow Card: Nonu
Tries: Carter, Slade
Cons: Slade 2
Pens: Slade 3
Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Callum Gibbins, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Motu Matu’u, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 James Marshall.
Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 David Havili, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Shane McDermott (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)