Canada's Rachel Homan had ideal preparation for the playoffs at the Ford World Curling Championships with a pair of hard-fought wins over tenacious opponents Thursday.
The Canadians defeated Sweden 9-6 and China 6-4 to finish atop the preliminary-round standings at 10-1. Their execution Thursday was the sharpest of the tournament so far.
The games were tight with Homan and her Ottawa Curling Club teammates scoring three in the eighth ends of both.
"We were really pushed today," Homan said. "It was great we were able to control the game and stay confident with this team and really nail the lines and make the big shots when we needed them.
"We had to fight for our points."
Homan will face Switzerland's Binia Feltscher, whose record was 9-2, in Friday's playoff game between the top two seeds.
The winner books a ticket to Sunday's gold-medal game. The loser drops to Saturday's semifinal.
Canada's lone loss of the preliminary round was to the Swiss. It went so badly for the host country in ends five through eight that they shook hands early Sunday.
"That was a little bit of a lopsided game," Homan acknowledged. "We had some misfortune, but I think we're a little bit different now. We're going to know the rocks and it's going to be on a different sheet and everything so I think it should be a great game."
The top four teams advance to the Page playoff. Russia's Anna Sidorova, Sweden's Margaretha Sigfridsson and South Korea's Ji-sun Kim all finished tied at 8-3.
Sidorova will play in Saturday morning's playoff between the third and fourth seeds with the winner advancing to the semifinal. Russia's opponent will be the victor of Friday's tiebreaker between the Swedes and South Koreans.
Sidorova's missed final shot of a game against the Czech Republic — a draw — prevented Russia from finishing 9-2 and playing Canada on Friday.
China and Allison Pottinger of the U.S., were just outside playoff contention at 6-5 with Germany's Imogen Oona Lehmann and Anna Kubeskova of the Czech Republic ending their tournaments 3-8.
Scotland's Kerry Barr and Denmark's Madeleine Dupont had 2-9 records ahead of Latvia's Evita Regza at 1-10.
Homan had to win a tiebreaker to get into the final four at last year's world championship in Riga, Latvia. Canada won their subsequent playoff game before losing the semifinal and then winning the bronze medal.
The beauty of finishing in the top two is the loser of Friday's game can still get to the championship game, albeit via a longer route.
"We love the one-two game," Homan said. "There's not much pressure.
"Either way we've got a chance at the gold-medal game. That's what we're gunning for now."
The Canadians struck a balance between patience and aggression to achieve their No. 1 ranking.
The average age of Homan, third Emma Miskew, second Alison Kreviazuk and lead Lisa Weagle is just shy of 26, but they're a Canadian women's curling team ahead of the curve when it comes to the big-game experience and the lessons learned in those games.
Homan, Miskew and Kreviazuk have been teammates for over a decade.
Since graduating from the junior ranks four years ago, they and Weagle have played in three national women's championships — finishing fourth and winning twice — two world championships and an Olympic trials.
'So much experience'
"This team may be young, but we've had so much experience," said Weagle, the oldest at 28.
"We realize we're a young team and have really ambitious goals. We really want to accomplish them, but at the same token, if you look at a lot of the great curlers in our sport, they're in their 30s or even their 40s when they're at the peak of their game."
Weagle's talent for clearing a road to the rings and Miskew's ability to execute big-weight, multi-stone takeouts allows Canada to gamble and takes some pressure off Homan.
Kreviazuk banged her broom after a few misses during the preliminary round, but the four curlers have an otherwise business-like demeanour on the ice.
"We're patient and we're learning all the time and we're allowing ourselves to learn," Weagle said. "We're not expecting to be perfect every single shot, but when we're not, we want to learn from it.
"Often I'll go down and talk to Rachel about my shots and how I'm throwing them, if she want me to make an adjustment or if she's going to make the adjustment with the broom. I think that's worked really well for us. We want to make the most shots possible and whatever way we need to do it, it's good to take the emotion out and just treat it like business."