MONTREAL -- There was so much riding on Chelsea Carey's final rock -- a winning game, a lock on second place -- and yet, in some ways nothing at all.
True, if the Manitoban skip's final shot against Alberta's Val Sweeting had come in right, if it had made the perfect run-back to jostle Sweeting's stone away from the button, Carey would have taken three points and won the game.
And if she had won the game, she would have clinched her position in second place, guaranteeing her two cracks at making the Tournament of Hearts' final game.
Anyway, that doesn't matter now. The final shot was a narrow miss, the run-back not quite making it far enough to bump out Sweeting's stone.
With that miss, the Alberta team stole a single, and took a 7-4 win to clinch their own spot in the playoffs, locking up fourth place. And when the stone settled just a hair too soon, Carey lifted her eyes up to Maurice Richard Arena's deep blue dome, and -- for a moment -- the disappointment hung from her shoulders.
After a day where she'd made so many laser shots, the final one was so close, and yet so far. "Missed it by a quarter-inch," Carey said, minutes after the loss. "It was one of those games. It was well played on both sides. The inches kind of went more their way than ours... We've had that go our way all week, in some games that we've won. It is what it is."
For Team Manitoba, the upshot is the loss to Sweeting put them at 8-2 on the week, but didn't change what really mattered much at all.
Carey, third Kristy McDonald, second Kristen Foster and lead Lindsay Titheridge already punched their ticket to the weekend games, with their squeaker afternoon win over an old friend in Ontario's Allison Flaxey.
And they have another chance to clinch second place today, as they face Prince Edward Island's Kim Dolan, who at 3-7 is not in the playoff race. If they win, they will face dagger-sharp defending champion Rachel Homan in the 1 vs. 2 Page playoff game.
The playoff four were officially set on Thursday: Homan clinched her top spot by going 10-0, with one game left today. On Thursday, she survived a fierce challenge from Saskatchewan's Stefanie Lawton. Though Homan ultimately won that one 7-6, it marked the first time the Canadian champions have trailed after six ends. Maybe there is a crack in their armour. Or maybe not.
Point being, Lawton's loss to Homan (and her win on Thursday night) left her at 8-2 on the week, tied with Carey. But Team Manitoba beat Saskatchewan at the beginning of the week, so they carry the tiebreaker: Even if both rinks win today -- or both lose -- Manitoba will finish second. "We're going to come out and try to win tomorrow regardless," Carey said. "We're in the playoffs, which is what we wanted. One-two game, three-four game, doesn't really matter."
Still, the curling watchers around the media bench whispered -- there's a good chance the Homan-Lawton game was a preview of the 2014 Scotties final.
And Homan is fearsome right now: The skipper curled 100 per cent in her evening game, and leads all skips with a surgical 90 per cent on the week.
"The way they're playing right now, it's going to be tough (to beat them)," Flaxey said on Thursday afternoon.
Flaxey, who at 3-7 is long out of playoff contention, is sort of rooting for a different final matchup than the Lawton-Homan rematch some curling fans are predicting: As a one-time teammate of Carey and Titheridge, and close friends with Foster, she'd like to see the Manitobans take a run at it.