CALGARY - The Page playoff between the top two seeds at the Canadian men's curling championship showcases the best two teams of the preliminary round.
Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs and Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador will square off Friday evening at the Tim Hortons Brier with the winner advancing directly to Sunday's championship game.
The loser can still get to the final, but has to win Saturday's semifinal against the victor of the playoff between the third and fourth seeds earlier that day.
The latter two playoff berths were still up for grabs heading into Thursday night's draw at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Because it's a non-elimination game, that one-two game has the potential to be even better than the final, says Gushue. There's less chance of missing routine shots because of nervousness and adrenaline.
"I actually think the calibre of game will probably be better because you do have a second life and the nerves probably aren't going to be as extreme knowing that 'if I miss this, we're eliminated,'" the Newfoundland skip said.
"From watching it in the past, the one-two games are usually well-curled games, much better than the final and the semifinal because those are sudden death."
Gushue's 6-5 win over Jacobs in Thursday morning's draw set up Friday's duel. It was Northern Ontario's first loss of the tournament and they dropped to 9-1, but still ahead of Newfoundland at 8-2.
Both teams were guaranteed a top-two finish when the preliminary round concludes Friday morning. Both had one more game to play Thursday night.
Team Canada at 7-3 and Saskatchewan's Steve Laycock at 6-3 had the inside track on the other two playoff berths, while Quebec's Jean-Michel Menard remained in tiebreaker territory at 6-4.
With five losses apiece, Alberta's Kevin Koe, B.C.'s Jim Cotter and Manitoba's Reid Carruthers weren't mathematically eliminated from a tiebreaker, but needed Laycock to lose his last two games of the round-robin.
Northern Ontario had their top-two position locked up by Wednesday. Jacobs had trailed in just one of 82 ends prior to facing Gushue, but the reigning Olympic champions uncharacteristically gave up a steal of one in both the second and third ends.
After trading singles, Jacobs scored three in the seventh to tie it up. Gushue had the hammer coming home with the score tied and got his one.
"To try to go through the Brier undefeated is pretty difficult and it's not anything we anticipated doing," Jacobs said. "I'm happy with how we battled back in the second half because we played like complete garbage in the first half, especially me."
"We're just going to try and play the one-two game smart. We know what game really matters at this point."
It will be the second one-two playoff game at the Brier for Jacobs. He lost to Glenn Howard in 2010 and was then beaten in the semifinal by Alberta's Koe.
Jacobs and his current team of Ryan Fry, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden team claimed the fourth and final playoff berth two years ago in Edmonton. Jacobs played his way through to the final, beating Gushue in the three-four playoff game in an extra end.
Northern Ontario ended a 28-year drought and the Jacobs rink claimed their first Canadian title with an 11-4 victory over Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton.
Gushue is a career 1-1 in the playoff between the top two seeds. He defeated Glenn Howard in 2007 to get to the final, but lost the championship game to Stoughton. In 2011, he lost the one-two game to Stoughton and then lost in the semifinal to Howard.
"For me, it's just an avenue to get into the final," Gushue said. "You don't want to rely on that semifinal game.
"If you can get it done in the one-two game it lets you breathe a little easier, it's one less game on the body, one less game of pressure on the nerves. There's a whole lot of benefits to winning that one-two game."
The 34-year-old won Olympic gold in 2006 with current third Mark Nichols. Gushue has now skipped his team to the Brier playoffs for an eighth time in 12 appearances, but is still looking for his first Canadian title.
Laycock defeated Koe 6-5, Ontario's Mark Kean edged Manitoba 8-7, B.C. beat New Brunswick's Jeremy Mallais 7-4 and Prince Edward Island's Adam Casey defeated Jamie Koe of Northwest Territories 9-5 on Thursday afternoon.
P.E.I. and Ontario were both 4-6 and New Brunswick was 2-8.
At 0-10, Northwest Territories is relegated to the pre-tournament qualifier in 2016. The team from Northwest Territories must compete with Nova Scotia and Yukon to get into the main 12-team draw.