VICTORIA - The contenders are starting to flex their muscles at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
Led by defending champion Jennifer Jones, a trio of teams in the playoff hunt earned lopsided victories in Draw 12 on Wednesday at the Canadian women's curling championship.
Jones's was the most impressive - a 10-3 drubbing of Marie-France Larouche that moved Canada ahead of the Quebec skip and into sole possession of second place at 6-2.
B.C.'s Marla Mallett continues to lead at 6-1, while three teams - Larouche, Alberta's Cheryl Bernard and P.E.I.'s Rebecca Jean MacPhee, are next at 5-3. Saskatchewan's Stefanie Lawton is lurking close behind at 4-3.
Jones, third Cathy Overton-Clapham, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn Askin bounced back nicely after losing a pair of games Tuesday, including a 10-8 stunner at the hands of the Territories' Kerry Galusha.
''That was a must-win for us,'' said Jones. ''We had a couple of heartbreakers yesterday, and we knew we had to bear down today. We needed that win.''
The Canadians set the tone early, scoring two points with the hammer in the first and third ends while limiting Quebec to a single in the second. Jones extended the lead to 6-1 with a steal of two in the fourth, and stole two more in the seventh when Larouche was heavy on a draw with her final shot.
Canada shot at an 84-per-cent clip - its best performance since Draw 7 - while Quebec finished at a tournament-low 73 per cent.
Lead Dawn Askin said the team didn't lose much sleep over Tuesday's subpar performance.
''We went to bed feeling pretty good about today,'' said Askin. ''We knew we had to play well against Quebec, and definitely the competitive instinct kicks in.
''Yesterday was yesterday, and today's a new day.''
Wednesday morning was equally productive for Bernard and MacPhee, who both posted impressive wins.
Bernard ended a two-game losing streak with an 11-4 drubbing of New Brunswick's Andrea Kelly (3-5) in a game shortened to seven ends. Bernard, a finalist at the 1996 event in Thunder Bay, Ont., knows her team is still in good shape despite having three losses.
''When we were here in '96, we were out of it at one point,'' said Bernard, who faces Lawton in Draw 13. ''And then we ended up getting back in, rolling off a bunch of wins ... it's just not impossible. That's what I keep telling everybody.''
Bernard put the game away early, scoring four points with the hammer in the opening end and adding three more in the third. The foursome of Bernard, third Susan O'Connor, second Carolyn Darbyshire and lead Cori Bartel finished at a tournament-best 95 per cent for the game, with Darbyshire recording just the second 100-per-cent performance of the tournament.
MacPhee kept pace with Bernard in equally dominant fashion, needing just six ends to beat Manitoba's Barb Spencer 9-2. P.E.I. scored three in the first, two more in the fourth and put the game away with a steal of three in the fifth.
It was P.E.I.'s second straight win following a 9-3 rout at the hands of Newfoundland and Labrador's Heather Strong, a loss that could have derailed MacPhee's magical Scotties run. Instead, the foursome rebounded to beat Alberta 7-6 on Tuesday night, and followed with its strongest game of the tournament.