Winnipeg's Jeff Stoughton and Mike McEwen are once again on a collision course.
The two provincial rivals, who have faced off twice in the last three years in the Manitoba men's final, will meet tonight at the Canada Cup of Curling in Moose Jaw, Sask., in what has the makings of a first-place showdown.
With two more wins apiece on Thursday, Stoughton and McEwen both come into today's final day of the round-robin tied atop the men's field at 4-0. Stoughton will play his fifth game of the round-robin this morning against Toronto's John Epping, while McEwen will take on Edmonton's Kevin Koe this afternoon.
But those games will be only a warm-up act for tonight's big show as one of the fiercest rivalries in all of men's curling once again takes centre stage on the final draw of the Canada Cup round-robin.
The stakes could be huge. Whoever finishes first at the conclusion of tonight will advance straight to Sunday's men's final, where the winner receives one of just eight berths into the 2013 Canadian Curling Trials at MTS Centre next winter. The second and third place teams will play in Saturday's semifinal.
While Stoughton has owned McEwen at the provincials in recent years, the two teams are more evenly matched on the cashspiel circuit and both come into today playing their very best.
McEwen was brilliant on Thursday in defeating Epping 9-8 in an extra end on the morning draw and then coming back out on the evening draw and dropping reigning Olympic gold medallist Kevin Martin 8-5.
Stoughton, meanwhile, also sparkled, hammering Martin 10-4 on the afternoon draw and then defeating Newfoundland's Brad Gushue 9-5 at night.
The wins guaranteed both Stoughton and McEwen no worse than a tiebreaker game today.
They are both two games clear of reigning world champion Glenn Howard and Koe, who are tied for third place at 2-2.
On the women's side, the three Winnipeg teams had a dreadful day, combining for just one win on Thursday -- and that one came in a game between two of the teams.
After opening the week at 2-0, Jennifer Jones's team -- with Kaitlyn Lawes playing in place of Jones -- lost both their games on Thursday, falling 7-5 to Saskatoon's Stefanie Lawton and 8-3 to Alberta's Heather Nedohin as Lawes struggled. Lawes was dead last in shooting percentage among skips in the seven-team women's field heading into Thursday night, averaging just 58 per cent.
With the losses, Jones falls to 2-2 and into a three-way tie for third place with Calgary's Crystal Webster and Ontario's Sherry Middaugh. Nedohin is in second at 3-1 and Lawton leads at 4-0.
Chelsea Carey, meanwhile, stayed alive at 1-3 with a 7-4 win over Cathy Overton-Clapham Thursday night. Carey was the hottest team on the women's cashspiel circuit for the past month, but lost three straight to open their event, including two on last rock.
The second of those last rock heartbreakers came earlier Thursday in a 6-5 extra-end loss to Lawton.
"We're playing really well. What can you do?" said Carey.
"Last year when we made the final at this thing, we were winning those last-rock games. This year, we're losing them."
They did finally win one Thursday night, however, as Overton-Clapham just missed a last-rock long angle-raised takeout that would have tied the game.
The win kept open the possibility of a 3-3 finish for Carey today, which she noted earlier in the day was the same round-robin record Jones had last year in winning this same event.
Overton-Clapham, meanwhile, dropped to 0-4 with the loss and is now the only winless team remaining in the women's field.