Hurricanes skipper Conrad Smith is baffled by his side's 18-16 defeat to the Highlanders in Wellington on Friday.
"I'm just trying to work out how we lost that," said Smith.
It was always going to be tight, I suppose, between two very good sides.
"They're a very good defensive side.
"It became really tight early on and I suppose both sides began playing pretty conservatively."
The Hurricanes scored the only try of the match through scrum-half TJ Perenara in the 37th minute.
Perenara also had a potential match-winning try disallowed because of obstruction five minutes from full-time.
The result, which lifted the Highlanders into second place in the New Zealand conference and into fourth place overall at the start of the tournament's 14th round, significantly boosted their play-off hopes.
They came into the match in seventh place, just below the sixth-place Hurricanes with both teams equal on 30 championships points.
The victory allowed them to leapfrog the Hurricanes and, significantly, they have a match in hand as the regular season nears its end.
The Highlanders have a tough run toward the play-offs with matches remaining against the seven-time champion Crusaders, who they must play twice, the defending champion Chiefs, the 2011 champion Queensland Reds and the New South Wales Waratahs.
The Hurricanes have one match fewer to come because of a bye in the last round and must play the Chiefs twice, the Blues and the Crusaders in an equally difficult finish to the season.
Their loss on Friday in a match they were widely expected to win was severely damaging to their play-off hopes.