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Bad news, good news day for 'Toba

Stoughton snaps two-game skid by beating N.S.

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Manitoba skip Jeff Stoughton delivers rock during a win over Nova Scotia Tuesday  at the Tim Hortons Brier in Kamloops, B.C.

ANDREW VAUGHAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

Manitoba skip Jeff Stoughton delivers rock during a win over Nova Scotia Tuesday at the Tim Hortons Brier in Kamloops, B.C.

KAMLOOPS, B.C. -- You want the good news or you want the bad news about Team Manitoba at the 2014 Tim Hortons Brier?

Let's start with the good news -- After a split of his two games on Tuesday, Jeff Stoughton is 5-2 coming into this morning and very much in the thick of the playoff hunt with just four more round-robin games to play.

So what's the bad news? Well, Manitoba has lost two of its last three games and the one they did win came Tuesday afternoon over a winless Nova Scotia team that gave Stoughton and company all they could handle before finally going down 8-6 in a last-rock nail-biter.

"A bit of a scare? I've got to go change my shorts," Manitoba third Jon Mead quipped afterward. "It's such a cliché but it really is amazing to me just how good teams like this can play when you give them a little bit of an opening.

"We didn't play that bad, but we gave them an opening and holy smoke, they made everything."

Almost everything. Trailing Manitoba 7-6, Nova Scotia skip Jamie Murphy needed to draw the four-foot with the final rock of the tenth end to force an extra, but he came up light and handed Manitoba a steal and the win.

It couldn't have come at a better time for Stoughton and company, who were riding a two-game losing streak heading into the Nova Scotia game after a loss earlier to Quebec.

Against Quebec, the Manitobans stormed back from a 4-0 deficit only to let it all slip away in an extra end when Stoughton missed a questionable runback attempt with the final rock of the game to gift-wrap a game-winning steal of two for Quebec's Jean-Michel Menard.

The loss to Quebec Tuesday morning came after a loss to Alberta Monday night and another loss to Nova Scotia Tuesday afternoon would have been a major blow to Manitoba's playoff chances, not to mention their confidence.

"We've got to play better than that," said Stoughton. "What's surprising is that some of the hits we're throwing aren't as good. We've all got really good draw weight, which is thank goodness because we'd be in big trouble if we didn't have draw weight.

"But it just seems like some of the hits and peels are just a little bit off for both Jon and I."

Manitoba has another two-game day today, playing Northern Ontario (2-5) this morning and then Saskatchewan, which were 4-1 heading into Tuesday night's late draw, this afternoon.

The silver lining to all this if you're a Manitoba fan is that Manitoba has been beaten just twice this week while playing much less than their best.

While Stoughton played much better on Tuesday -- he shot 89 per cent against Quebec and 95 per cent against Nova Scotia -- it is testimony to just how mightily Manitoba has struggled this week that Stoughton was still just seventh in shooting percentage (83 per cent) at his position heading into Tuesday night.

"Both (third) Jon (Mead) and I need to make better shots and finish some ends off a little more," Stoughton said. "It's just one of those things -- we've got to clean up the little mistakes here and there."

Mead agreed. "We need to string some wins together and stop falling behind early," he said.

"And if we can do that, I think we'll be fine. But we've got to make it happen soon because we're running out of lives out here."

In stark contrast, B.C. has looked every bit of the 6-1 first-place juggernaut they are heading into this morning. John Morris won both his games on Tuesday easily -- 7-2 over N.W.T. and 9-3 over New Brunswick -- and has now won four games in a row and appear to be thriving in front of the pro-B.C. crowds out here.

"We're getting stronger and stronger," Morris said. "We snuck some wins out early with some character-builders and now we're starting to get a handle on the rocks, a real positive thing to see."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2014 D4

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