No surprise teams this time around.
The favourites came through in round-robin play this week at the Tim Hortons Brier. Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador have reached the playoffs while Northern Ontario came up just short Thursday afternoon.
Olympic champion Kevin Martin locked up the final playoff spot with a dramatic 7-6 victory over the Northwest Territories/Yukon. The Alberta skip hit a double-raise takeout to score two with the final throw of the 10th end.
"It was probably the only shot I made that game," said Martin, who shot just 60 per cent.
The seeding was settled in the round-robin finale Thursday night at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ont. Martin defeated Howard 6-5 while Gushue locked up the top seed with a 9-7 win over Quebec.
Gushue will meet Stoughton in the 1-2 Page Playoff game Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET, with the winner to advance straight to Sunday night's final. Martin and Howard will square off again in the 3-4 game Saturday afternoon. The winner advances to the semifinal Saturday evening against the loser of the 1-2 game. The semifinal winner then moves on to the final.
"It's just one of those weeks," Gushue said. "Things seem to be going well and we're making the big shot at the right time. I think we're coming in a little bit looser than we have in the past as well and not putting as much pressure on ourselves."
Gushue won Olympic gold at the Turin Games in 2006 but he's still looking for his first Brier title. Martin will go for a record fifth Brier win as a skip. Stoughton is a two-time Brier champion while Howard has won three times. Gushue snapped Martin's record 30-game Brier winning streak earlier in the week.
Martin scored one on a takeout in the final end to beat Howard.
Best in playoffs: Morris
"We were leaking a bit of oil this week, more than we usually do," said Alberta third John Morris. "But I think the four teams that are in the playoffs are the best four teams and the most consistent four teams of the week.
"And now we're going to see who can rise to the occasion."
Gushue, Stoughton and Martin were all 9-2. Gushue secured the top seed with round-robin wins over both Stoughton and Martin. The loss sent Howard into fourth place at 8-3.
"We just played awful for three ends and I don't know what the reason was there," Howard said. "We hung on and we made him earn it. Kevin had to make a tough shot there at the end."
Stoughton got the No. 2 seed because he beat Martin in the round robin.
Northern Ontario was the only rink with a chance to crack the top four at the start of play Thursday but it was a longshot at best. Skip Brad Jacobs, a surprise playoff participant last year, beat New Brunswick's James Grattan 6-1 but was eliminated when Martin beat Jamie Koe.
"Kevin's one of the best in the world, if not the best," Koe said. "He seems to make those big shots when he has to."
There were several seeding scenarios entering the final draw but Ontario was the only rink in control of its own destiny. Stoughton, who did not play in the evening, defeated Quebec 8-4 in the afternoon to improve to 9-2. Gushue and Martin were also 9-2 while Howard fell to fourth at 8-3. Gushue secured the top seed with round-robin wins over both Stoughton and Martin.
In the other evening games, Nova Scotia's Shawn Adams edged Jim Cotter of British Columbia 6-5 while Northern Ontario downed Saskatchewan 6-3.
Northern Ontario finished fifth at 7-4. Nova Scotia was next at 5-6, followed by Saskatchewan, B.C., and New Brunswick at 4-7. Quebec and the Northwest Territories/Yukon were 3-8 and Prince Edward Island was 1-10.