Despite having plenty thrown at them after the break, the home side hung on for a 17-14 victory in Christchurch on Friday night.
The visitors never stopped coming throughout the second half and with just three minutes to play there was one last opening when Crusaders replacement hooker Shilo Klein was sent off for a high tackle on Highlanders prop Ethan de Groot.
But the Crusaders managed to close it out in the final moments, meaning a strong defensive effort was eventually rewarded.
Earlier, a back-and-forth first half was in contrast to what transpired in the second, with 31 points scored before the teams headed for the sheds.
The Highlanders bagged two tries, including the first of the match to hooker Andrew Makalio and another to midfielder Scott Gregory, but both times the Crusaders responded.
Prop Fletcher Newell and centre Leicester Fainga'anuku dotted down for the hosts, the second of those tries and a Richie Mo'unga penalthy giving them a halftime lead they never relinquished.
The result took the Crusaders to five wins from six matches, while the Highlanders had also played six but were yet to register a victory.