The Guelph Storm played catch-up all night against the Kitchener Rangers and never quite got there.
Twice the Storm got within a goal of the Rangers, including early in the third period when Marc Stevens made it a 3-2 game, but in the end it was Kitchener prevailing by a 4-2 count at The Aud.
Guelph is now on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention for the first time since their first season in the league, 1991-92, ending a string of 23 consecutive playoff appearances.
The magic number for the Storm now being eliminated from playoff contention is five points: any combination of Guelph points dropped and Saginaw points earned.
"We were right with them. It was one of those games where you'd just like to see us get that lucky bounce," said Marc Stevens, who had an assist to go with his goal.
"That's just the way the season's been going so far, but that's out of our control. We've just got to keep doing the little things right and working hard and hopefully the hockey gods will look down on us."
Storm coach Jarrod Skalde was impressed with the way his team "fought right to the end."
"We gave ourselves a chance, but if our power play isn't getting at least one goal it's tough for us to generate some offence," Skalde said of the Storm, the OHL's lowest-scoring team.
"The compete was there. We have to slow the game down and not get in track meets with other teams and I thought we did a good job of managing that tonight," Skalde said.
The Storm trailed 1-0 after the first period and 2-0 midway through the second before Liam Stevens one-timed a big rebound past Kitchener goaltender Dawson Carty to pull the Storm within one.
Brandon Robinson's one-timer from the slot 31 seconds into the third restored the home side's two-goal lead, but Marc Stevens' top-shelf wrister 81 seconds later made once again made it a one-goal game.
The backbreaker came midway through the third when Dylan Di Perna's high wrist shot from the point hit someone in front and dropped at the side of Storm goaltender Michael Giugovaz, where Adam Mascherin poked in his second goal of the game.
Guelph had little pressure over the final 11 minutes of the game.
The Storm was without a variety of key players for various reasons: Nic Sicoly (flu), Givani Smith (suspension), Austin Hall (concussion), Kyle West (concussion) and Jake Harris (concussion) would all have played key minutes had they been available.
Kitchener was missing starting goalie Luke Opilka (flu), Jeremy Bracco (suspension) and Mason Kohn (suspension).
The same two teams go at it again Friday night at the Sleeman Centre. The Storm plays road games at Niagara and Sarnia on Saturday and Sunday.