NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask -- Jon Brazeau/Sportsnet -- Brad Gushue and his St John's, NL, crew are all tuned up for the Meridian Canadian Open playoffs.
Team Gushue won their third consecutive game in the Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling major tournament with a tight 4-2 decision over defending champions Team Peter de Cruz of Switzerland in Friday night's men's B Event qualifiers at Civic Centre.
Even though it was called a "B" game, Gushue and third Mark Nichols brought their "A" game with the back-end pair both tossing 97 per cent.
"It's nice to get into the playoffs," said Gushue, who went 3-1 overall opening with a loss to Team Glenn Howard. "I thought we played a really good game today. We had a weak one there in our third but we got away with it, so I think we're playing well. We're definitely being stingy out there not giving up a whole lot of points but we're having trouble putting together some big ends as well.
"Hopefully, we can fix that part and still keep good on the defence. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
Gushue opened with the hammer and made a soft tap back in the second end for a deuce that proved to be the difference-maker with nothing but singles on the board from there. Team De Cruz fourth Benoit Schwarz remained sharp as well throwing at a 91 per cent clip and required Gushue to play some tough defence.
"I thought we outplayed them from lead to skip and it felt like we controlled just about every end," Gushue said. "He kept them in the game. He made a runback double in one end where it looked like we might score three and forced me to draw to the four-foot. He saved them a few times and kept the game close, but I've got to give credit to my team. We played really well from lead to skip."
Gushue cited second Brett Gallant as a key contributor for the team to keep up their solid play into the playoffs.
"I think our confidence is pretty good, I don't think it's at an all-time high by any means but I certainly feel it's gotten better as the week has gone on," Gushue said. "I think Brett's really coming around and starting to play really good like we've seen Brett play. He's such a big part of our team that when he gets going, our team usually gets going and we can get on a run. Hopefully, it continues tomorrow."
Gushue, who has won 11 titles in the series, captured his second career Meridian Canadian Open men's championship right in this very arena two years ago.
The Meridian Canadian Open is the only one of the seven Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling tournaments to feature triple knockout - instead of round-robin pools - where teams must win three games before they lose three in order to qualify for the playoffs over the course of A, B and C Events.
De Cruz (2-2) dropped to the last-chance C Event and will play Toronto's Team John Epping bright and early Saturday morning with the winner moving on and the loser gone.
Elsewhere, Team Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont., also qualified through the B Event by beating Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., 5-3. Team Jacobs are playing in their first event with third Ryan Fry back in the lineup since returning from his leave of absence. Jacobs takes on Regina's Team Matt Dunstone in the C Event finals.
Winnipeg's Team Braden Calvert collides with Team Niklas Edin of Sweden in the third C-qualifier.
Calgary's Team Kevin Koe also made it through the B Event earlier Friday on their skip's birthday no less with a 7-2 win over Edin that was capped with a five-ender.
"It feels good," Koe said. "Obviously, don't want to get down to our last life in the C out here it's just tough sledding, especially playing a good team like Nik. I felt we played well after we forced them in the first end and after that, we weren't really in much trouble the rest of the way."
Scotland's Team Bruce Mouat and Edmonton's Team Brendan Bottcher both had the day off as they went 3-0 through the A-side to qualify first.
The playoff picture has been finalized on the women's side with the conclusion of their C Event finals.
Edmonton's Team Chelsea Carey completed the C-side grind on the women's side earning three consecutive wins over the course of Friday's four draws. Carey, who lost her first couple games of the tournament, capped the crazy run in the evening with a 6-2 victory to edge out Japan's Team Satsuki Fujisawa for a playoff spot.
"We were pretty frustrated," said Carey, who won the tournament a year ago with a different lineup. "We didn't feel like we were doing things that wrong in the first two games and nothing was working out. We just came out today and battled it out and started to get things to go our way, so that's what we needed."
Carey, who also beat Sweden's Team Isabella Wrana and Winnipeg's Team Darcy Robertson on the day, said patience was key to turning their fortunes around with their backs against the wall.
"We were really close to a lot of good things and we couldn't quite get the precision locked in, so just stay patient and keep throwing it well," Carey said. "We did a better job today of managing rocks, getting shots, line calls and sweeping and that kind of thing. That was the difference."
Switzerland's Team Silvana Tirinzoni blanked Winnipeg's Team Jennifer Jones, but not in the traditional curling sense, rather channelling compatriot Roger Federer by dishing out a bagel winning 6-0 to qualify.
Team Casey Scheidegger, who claimed the 2017 Meridian Canadian Open women's title in North Battleford, returned to the playoffs here following a 6-4 set over Team Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul, Man.
Scheidegger faces top seed Team Rachel Homan of Ottawa in the quarterfinals. Homan, who won back-to-back Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling titles entering the tournament, finished the triple knockout undefeated through the A-side at 3-0. Scotland's Team Eve Muirhead, who also went 3-0 through the A Event, clashes with Carey. Tirinzoni takes on North Battleford's own Team Robyn Silvernagle and Edmonton's Team Laura Walker play Team Nina Roth of the United States in a battle of B-qualifiers.
Broadcast coverage resumes with the women's quarterfinals at 12:30 p.m. ET / 11:30 a.m. CT on CBC, Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).
NOTES: The Meridian Canadian Open is the fifth event and third major of the 2018-19 Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling season. ... Standard Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling rules apply: games are played to eight ends, the five-rock rule is in effect and teams receive 33 minutes of thinking time plus two, 90-second timeouts. ... The combined purse is $250,000 with the winning teams earning $30,000 plus berths to the season-ending Humpty's Champions Cup.
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