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Hometown favourite Martin keeps faint playoff hopes alive at Brier

Alberta skip Kevin Martin makes a shot during the evening draw against Northwest Territories/Yukon at the Tim Hortons Brier in Edmonton, Alta. Wednesday, March 6, 2013.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Shot by shot, inch by inch of ice, Kevin Martin is clawing his way back into the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier.

In a crucial game Thursday night at Rexall Place, the four-time Brier champion took advantage of an eighth-end break to defeat Saskatchewan by a 6-5 score. The loss virtually ended Saskatchewan's hopes of making the playoffs while lifting Alberta to 5-4, the first time Martin has posted a winning record at this year's Canadian men's curling championship.

The hometown favourite lost four of his first five games and at one point thought his team had no chance of rebounding quickly enough to qualify for the playoffs. Then the Alberta foursome of Martin, John Morris, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert began making shots and regaining their confidence. They defeated the Northwest Territories/Yukon on Wednesday night before taking out Prince Edward Island on Thursday afternoon.

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That win set up an evening win-or-else battle with Saskatchewan and Brock Virtue, a Brier rookie as a skip.

In the eighth with the score tied at 3-3, Virtue wrecked on a guard allowing Martin to tap back for three. When Virtue missed his shot, he slammed his broom into the carpet then tossed it aside in disgust.

"We played so hard to have it all come down to one shot was hard," said Virtue.

Martin knows he's still in a difficult position, what with his last two games Friday against Newfoundland/Labrador and Ontario's Glenn Howard, the defending Brier champ. But with his team now playing well, there's at least a sense of hope.

"Yep, a faint heartbeat, but there's still a heartbeat," Martin admitted. "We need a little help from other (rinks). We feel good now. But that first game (against Manitoba),we gave it away and you can't do that."

In Thursday night's other meaningful games, Ontario beat Quebec 4-2 to extend its unbeaten mark to 9-0.

Manitoba fell to 7-2 after losing 9-4 to Northern Ontario, now at 6-3.

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