RIGA, Latvia - A mediocre start nearly derailed Rachel Homan's rink at the world women's curling championship.
The Canadian team stuck together early on as they battled nerves, a tough field and some challenging conditions at the Volvo Sports Center. The result is a solid third-place finish in the round-robin standings and a four-game winning streak heading into the Page playoff 3-4 matchup.
"They're all feeling very comfortable, calm, focused and confident," said Canadian coach Earle Morris. "Those are the kind of feelings you hope your team has when you're going into the playoffs."
Entering play Thursday, Homan controlled her own playoff destiny but was still flirting with the cutline. She beat China's Bingyu Wang 7-4 in the morning and locked up the third seed with an 8-4 win over Japan's Satsuki Fujisawa in the afternoon.
Canada's next game is Saturday afternoon. Russia and Switzerland will play a tiebreaker Friday morning with the winner to face the United States in the second tiebreaker with the fourth seed on the line.
Homan and teammates Emma Miskew, Alison Kreviazuk and Lisa Weagle have been steady all week. Most games have been tight but the Canadians have shone in pressure situations.
"The good news about having close games all the time is you're constantly playing pressure shots," Morris said. "That bodes well because come playoff time, you're used to the pressure and it means you'll make the tough ones in the playoffs as well."
Scotland and Sweden finished 10-1 and will meet in the Page playoff 1-2 game Friday night.
The winner advances to Sunday's gold-medal game while the loser plays the 3-4 winner in the semifinal Saturday night. The semifinal winner will play for gold and the loser will play the 3-4 loser for bronze Sunday.
The playoff draw will be tough with both 2012 silver medallist Margaretha Sigfridsson of Sweden and four-time world junior champ Eve Muirhead of Scotland in top form.
Homan's Ottawa rink is playing at the tournament for the first time. She said her teammates were determined to turn things around after a slow start.
"We've had so much experience beating the top teams that we knew we had the ability," she said. "So we just have to believe in our ability and stick with that, don't look any farther than that."
Morris feels the Canadians have regained the form that helped them post strong results all season and at last month's Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
"When we came here I remember saying to the girls, 'All you have to do is keep doing what you're doing,'" Morris said. "Then we stumbled out of the gate and didn't do what we had been doing. But now for the last four or five games I've said to them, 'Guess what girls? You're back to playing like you did in the Scotties. So from here on in, just keep doing what you're doing.'
"So it's back to that message."
The China-Canada game was a defensive battle over the first eight ends. China scored two in the ninth but Canada had the hammer coming home.
Homan used her last throw to take out a stone by the four-foot ring to score four for the win. Against Japan, the Canadians surged to a 7-1 lead after seven ends and were never really threatened.
Homan is hoping to win Canada's first world women's title since Manitoba's Jennifer Jones was victorious in 2008. The 23-year-old skip beat Jones last month in Kingston, Ont., to qualify for the world championship.
Alberta's Heather Nedohin skipped Canada to a bronze medal at the 2012 world championship in Lethbridge. Switzerland's Mirjam Ott won gold last year.
Canada leads all countries with 29 podium appearances in the tournament's 34-year history. Canada also leads with 15 gold medals, well ahead of second-place Sweden with eight.
Latvia's Iveta Stasa-Satsune recorded her first win of the tournament Thursday with an 8-7, extra-end victory over Switzerland's Silvana Tirinzoni. About 100 fans were in attendance and they joyously started chanting the host country's name while cheering.
The Latvian players hugged and cried tears of joy after the upset win, a significant accomplishment considering there are only a few hundred curlers in the country and Riga has just one dedicated curling rink.