Simply put, the difference came down to confidence.
The Skipjacks came into last night's game winless in their last six. Adirondack had lost seven of 10, including the first two of a four-game trip.
Both teams were preseason shoo-ins for playoff berths but are now struggling and fighting for their lives in the AHL Southern Division race.
"We've had our backs to the wall for a couple of weeks, hovering around fourth place," Red Wings coach Barry Melrose said. "They've been losing and we've been losing, too. I said to my guys before the game, 'Let's see how they play under pressure, knowing they might miss the playoffs.' It's all brand new to them."
The Jacks melted under the heat.
The pesky Red Wings legally and illegally pushed, pulled and grabbed all night, allowing the Jacks 12 power-play chances. The Red Wings also had the endurance and aggressive forechecking necessary to kill off 11 of those opportunities, frustrating Jacks' coach Robbie Laird to a boiling point as his team fell, 5-3.
"It was constant pressure from their penalty-killing unit," Laird said. "We had trouble getting the puck out of our end and once we got inside their zone we had trouble keeping it in. They worked very hard."
Again the Jacks played poorly for the first half of the game, spotting the Wings a 3-1 advantage. But they also made a rare third-period comeback, tying the game with 7:37 remaining on the sole power-play goal from Alfie Turcotte.
But it was also Turcotte who gave away the puck on a power-play chance 1:38 later, as Gary Shuchuk went in on goalie Olaf Kolzig and beat him for the go-ahead goal. The Wings got an empty-netter from Bill McDougall to ice the win.
"We came back in this game and I don't want to forget that," Laird said. "It's a heartbreaking loss because we fought back so hard and had a chance to win."
The third-place Skipjacks (31-28-5) haven't won in 17 days.
Utica, currently holding the fourth and final playoff spot, is one point behind the Jacks and has a game in hand with 66. Hershey has 64 points and can narrow the gap to one with a win in Maine tonight. With last night's win, Adirondack is also just three points back with 64.
The Jacks play six of their next seven on the road and 10 of 16 on the road in March. They are in trouble and they know it.
"The tide has changed," said forward Todd Hlushko. "Once you start going bad it's hard to stop the skid. It starts to become contagious and we've got to stop it."
"They came into our building and initiated everything," he said. "The hitting, the rough stuff, the aggressiveness -- all of it. They earned the penalties and then they killed them. They took us by surprise and we can't ever let that happen again."