Seven-time Super Rugby champions the Crusaders face being knocked out of the tournament if they lose to competition leaders the Chiefs in the upcoming penultimate round.
The Crusaders, for so long the benchmark of the southern hemisphere provincial championship, are just three points ahead of the chasing pack as they go into Friday's crunch Super 15 Rugby game against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
The Hurricanes upset the Crusaders 23-22 last weekend in Christchurch to move into sixth spot and raise the spectre of the Canterbury side missing a place in the Super Rugby play-offs for the first time in 11 years.
The Chiefs have already locked up top spot in the New Zealand conference and are looking to protect their four-point lead over South Africa's Stormers on the overall standings with just two games left to the top-six playoffs later this month.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has rushed back All Blacks Israel Dagg, Dan Carter and Kieran Read from injury for the must-win showdown with the Chiefs.
"The guys are pretty fired up," Blackadder said.
"We're pleased we've got a good line-up for a big game."
"We're playing the best team in the competition and it's been one of those seasons where we haven't nailed those moments, so this is a good test for us against the Chiefs."
Former All Black assistant coach Wayne Smith, who is part of the Chiefs backroom staff, said his team had to push on now they had finished top of their group.
"The challenge is, once you've reached one goal, which was being top of the New Zealand conference, can you get the edge to keep pushing on and be top in the whole competition, win a semi-final and get yourself in a final?" Smith said.
"So there's a hell of a lot to play for, but you've got to show you've got the ability to push on and that's what we're trying to do."