The favourites going into the 2014 Canadian men's curling championship are the favourites coming out as the round robin draws to a close with Alberta, Manitoba and B.C. sitting one, two, three.
Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton and B.C.'s John Morris won their final round-robin games Thursday night to finish the Tim Hortons Brier preliminary robin at 9-2.
Alberta's Kevin Koe sits at 9-1 with only one game left Friday morning, after a 9-6 win over Prince Edward Island Thursday afternoon. If he wins Friday, the final three in order will be Alberta, Manitoba and B.C.
All that's up for grabs is the fourth and final playoff spot. Saskatchewan and Quebec, at 6-4, are leading the race but Newfoundland and New Brunswick are hanging in at 6-5. Saskatchewan and New Brunswick play Friday morning.
"There's still some hope," Quebec skip Jean-Michel Menard said of his chances to reach the three vs. four playoff game, although he has to face Alberta.
One scenario could even see four teams needing to work through tiebreakers Friday, if both Saskatchewan and Quebec lose.
"If both of the teams lose there's four teams at 6-5, which looks like a messy tiebreaker, so hopefully we don't have to go through that," Menard said.
Saskatchewan's Steve Laycock knows his path to the playoffs.
"Win our last and either get some help from Alberta or play a tiebreaker," said Laycock.
Morris said they will be happy to get into the playoffs through the three vs. four game. He got passed by Manitoba Thursday morning when he lost 7-6 to Stoughton in an extra end.
"We're prepared to go through the three-four game we're prepared to go to the one-two game, it doesn't matter," he said after his final game at night.
"If we have to play a few extra games in this spiel, we'll get our money's worth."
Stoughton noted the strange way the tiebreaker system works that could actually change the order if Alberta loses to Quebec Friday. B.C. would move into top spot leaving Alberta in second and Stoughton in third.
"Its kind of interesting, I mean Koe can actually pick who he's going to play," said the Manitoba skip and three-time Brier winner.
He admitted that isn't a likely outcome, since Koe will be trying hard to win to get hammer and choice of rocks going into the page playoffs.
Manitoba gave up three in the first end to Ontario Thursday night but quickly gained control again to come back and win 8-6.
"It seems like the theme of the week but year. It was well played again, he makes what, a double raise double? There was nothing we could do about it."
In his afternoon game, Koe had a similar experience. He started with a big four in the first end and a deuce in three but gave up a single and a three to keep the Islanders close. They even managed the rare occurrence at this Brier of a steal against Koe.
"We got up early and then I just threw one bad shot and gave up a three ender (and) after that they started making a lot of shots," he said. "We definitely could have made it easier on ourselves."
But with a win Friday in their final game against Quebec, he gets hammer and choice of rocks for the one vs. two playoff. It's an experience Koe says he has never had, either in 2010 when he won the Brier or in 2012 when he came second.
"It'll be a different feeling, not having our backs against the wall," Koe said.
Stoughton started the Brier with four wins — though none were decisive — before losing to Alberta and Quebec. He admitted both he and third John Mead needed to pick up their game.
The Thursday morning game wasn't mistake-free for Manitoba or B.C., but the last and most costly miss was made by the hometown favourites.
After exchanging deuces in the first two ends, it was singles until B.C.'s Jim Cotter missed a key double with his last rock in eight, letting Stoughton draw to the button for two to go ahead 6-5.
"It was a real tough double," said Morris. "We missed it by a hair."
Cotter was a little happier Thursday night as they beat Laycock and Saskatchewan 6-3.
"We bounced back," he said. "We had a solid team game. We were definitely a little better than this morning."
Greg Balsdon and Ontario were sitting at 4-6 with one game left to play friday morning after losing to Manitoba.
The Northwest Territories-Yukon team of Jamie Koe was tied with Eddie MacKenzie out of P.E.I. at 3-7 with one game left, Jeff Currie and Northern Ontario were finished at 2-9 and Nova Scotia's Jamie Murphy was winless at 0-10 with their final game against Ontario Friday.