Alberta's Kevin Koe and Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador joined Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs in the playoff mix at the Tim Hortons Brier on Thursday.
Manitoba's Mike McEwen waited until the evening to claim the fourth and final spot to guarantee that there would be a new champion this year.
"I'm not shocked that it's these four teams in the playoffs," Gushue said. "But I think we're all pretty darn even."
The playoff picture became clearer at the national men's curling championship after the morning draw. Several teams — including Team Canada's Pat Simmons — were left clinging to the faint chance of an appearance in a tiebreaker game.
Gushue edged B.C.'s Jim Cotter 8-7 to lock up his spot while Koe dumped Simmons 8-3.
Jacobs and McEwen had the morning off and when they played in the afternoon, unbeaten Northern Ontario picked up an 8-5 win to secure a berth in the Page Playoff 1-2 game.
Gushue will provide the opposition for Jacobs on Friday night after he outscored Prince Edward Island's Adam Casey 11-7. The winner of the 1-2 game advances straight to Sunday's gold-medal game.
"There's no time to let up," Jacobs said. "We've got to continue to play well and keep this momentum going."
Jacobs doubled New Brunswick's Mike Kennedy 10-5 in the evening to remain unbeaten at 10-0 and Gushue was second at 9-1. Jacobs and Gushue will meet in the round-robin finale Friday morning before their playoff matchup.
Koe improved to 8-3 by topping Saskatchewan's Steve Laycock 7-5 while McEwen (7-3) booked his playoff ticket with an 8-5 win over Quebec's Jean-Michel Menard (4-6).
"We fought really hard to get to this point," McEwen said. "It's not perfect but goal No. 1 is complete — we're playing on the weekend."
Crushing morning loss
The Team Canada players were crushed after the morning loss.
"You look at those top four teams that are going to be in the playoffs and we didn't beat any of them," said Canada lead Nolan Thiessen. "So that's a recipe for going home early."
The reigning champions were pegged as contenders from the outset and started strong with three straight victories before uneven play did them in.
"When you don't make eight shots an end very often, you don't get rewarded with success," said Canada coach Earle Morris. "We collectively needed to be better and we weren't good enough. We are where we deserve to be — middle of the pack — for how we played."
Simmons (6-5) closed out his round-robin with a 9-8 win over Ontario's Glenn Howard (4-7).
"I was just walking down the ice and I'm like, '[We're] no longer the Brier champs,"' Thiessen said. "It ends for everybody at some point."
Koe will play in the Page Playoff 3-4 game on Saturday afternoon. The winner advances to the semifinal that evening against the loser of the 1-2 game.
The semifinal winner moves on to the gold-medal game. The loser plays the 3-4 loser for the bronze medal on Sunday afternoon.
New Brunswick's Mike Kennedy was 3-7 while Cotter, Casey and Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories were tied for last place at 2-8.
The last-place team at the conclusion of round-robin play will fall into the four-team qualification pool at next year's Brier in St. John's.
The winner of Sunday's championship game will represent Canada at the world men's curling championship next month in Basel, Switzerland.
Notes: Two-time Brier champion Craig Savill, who has put his curling career on hold while he undergoes cancer treatments, served as an honorary alternate on Thursday evening. He received a standing ovation when he threw two stones for Ontario late in its game against Canada.