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Martin wobbly, Howard rocking

Stoughton, Gushue also in playoff hunt

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EDMONTON -- Ontario's Glenn Howard and Newfoundland's Brad Gushue continued to roll, Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton continued to lurk and Alberta's Kevin Martin had a one-word answer to describe what he thought of his playoff chances: "Dead."

A narrative began to take shape here at the Canadian men's curling championship Tuesday as the Brier round-robin passed the midway point and the contenders began to separate from the pretenders.

The former category continues to include Manitoba, who did exactly what they needed to do on a two-game day against a pair of soft opponents: win both games and keep themselves within striking distance of the leaders.

Stoughton followed a 9-2 thrashing of P.E.I.'s Eddie MacKenzie on Tuesday afternoon with a 7-6 victory over Saskatchewan's Brock Virtue Tuesday night to improve to 5-1 and, along with Quebec, stay within one game of first-place Ontario and Newfoundland, who head into today still undefeated at 6-0.

The Saskatchewan victory turned on the eighth end. With the game tied 4-4 and Saskatchewan lying a pair of counters on the four-foot, Stoughton elected a risky raised double-takeout and executed it perfectly, scoring a deuce to take control.

"We're sitting pretty good and we have just one game (today against Newfoundland)," Stoughton said Tuesday night. "We've got just one loss and a few more games to go to get to eight wins. And once we do that, we're pretty much guaranteed something, hopefully... And that's always our goal -- to get to eight (wins) as fast as we can."

Meanwhile, perhaps the biggest story of the 2013 Brier -- or at least the most unexpected -- continues to be the almost complete unravelling of Alberta's Kevin Martin, the four-time Brier champion most observers were expecting to thrive this week in a hometown environment.

While Martin would rebound Tuesday night with a 9-3 shellacking of winless Nova Scotia, it was a 6-5 loss to New Brunswick earlier Tuesday that dropped his team's record to a perilous 1-4 that may have struck the death blow for any chance of the home team surviving to compete in the Brier playoffs that begin this Saturday.

Martin, who was offended last weekend when it was suggested that perhaps his team wasn't getting along on the ice, wasn't so defiant when he was asked again Tuesday if the team's chemistry wasn't working. "I think it's safe to say that right now everything isn't working, from A to Z."

Martin had a one-word answer when he was asked what he thought of his team's playoff chances: "Dead."

That's actually not entirely true, and Martin later conceded teams with 7-4 records -- which is still within Alberta's reach if they win their final five remaining games -- commonly make the Brier playoffs.

New Brunswick skip James Grattan said from his vantage point on Tuesday, the Albertans appear to be struggling to adapt to the playing conditions -- in particular, the rocks in use here -- more than other teams.

"I think mentally you have to go out and accept that and play the game that's in front of you. And sometimes I think when they're not playing well, they get frustrated with the rocks, frustrated with everything else and everything becomes a lot bigger than it really is."

Martin isn't the only one struggling, however. After opening this event at 4-0, northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs has now lost two straight, falling to Newfoundland Monday night and then getting pounded 8-2 by Howard Tuesday night in the annual Battle of Ontario.

Howard's win over Jacobs -- coupled with a 7-4 win over N.W.T.'s Jamie Koe earlier Tuesday -- has the defending world champion still unblemished here this week as he attempts to win his second consecutive Brier.

"Ecstatic -- the fact we've gone 6-0 and even better is my guys are making everything, and that's what the doctor ordered," said Howard.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2013 C5

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