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NASHVILLE -- Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne cant wait to test himself in a game. The Predators, who announced Wednesday that they are sending Rinne to their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee, are cautiously waiting to see if the two-time Vezina Trophy finalist can help them chase down a playoff berth. Both Rinne and the team will have a better idea of where he is after the conditioning assignment for games Friday and likely Sunday in this latest step in his recovery from an E. coli infection in his surgically repaired left hip. Rinne has been limited to only nine games this season. Coach Barry Trotz said the Predators will be monitoring Rinne after each practice and game. "Hes at a point where weve got to find out where he is game-wise and also body and mind," Trotz said of Rinne. The Predators start a five-game home stand Thursday night hosting Tampa Bay just four points back of the Western Conferences eighth and final playoff spot with 23 games remaining. They missed the playoffs last year for only the second time in nine seasons. How quickly Rinne rejoins them depends on how he fares in Milwaukee. Rinne practiced with the Predators on Wednesday before travelling to Milwaukee, and he called this a big day with doctors giving him the green light for the latest step in his long recovery. He has been sidelined since Oct. 24 for an infection in the hip surgically repaired May 9, and Rinne said hes focusing on getting his game back and help the Predators. "So far I feel really comfortable," Rinne said. "Im happy how things have gone in practice and how things have gone so far. I think Im actually a little bit surprised its been going so well. But like I said, its still a process but for sure I feel like Im really close to game shape and now its just a final couple of games before I jump on the ice with the Nashville team." Rinne, 31, is sixth in the NHL with 152 wins since the 2008-09 season and has 30 shutouts since 2008-09, which leads all goalies during that time. He hasnt played since Oct. 22 in a 2-0 loss at Minnesota. He is 4-4-1 with a 2.31 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. The Predators have played four other goalies this season trying to make up for Rinnes absence. Currently, Carter Hutton is their starter, and he is 13-9-4 with a .904 save percentage and 2.87 goals-against average. Trotz said what theyve been missing without Rinne is a game-changer who can mean the difference in as many as 20 points in the standings each season. "Hes an elite goaltender and steals games maybe when you dont deserve it," Trotz said. "He can steal points." Trotz said theyre not sure what theyll see from Rinne. "Its not about Pekka coming back and being a saviour," Trotz said. "I think its Pekka coming back and adding to our mix. And if he can get his game to the level close to what hes capable of, were a better hockey team plain and simple. To me, its about Pekka for hopefully the next five or six years. Hes a difference maker." Captain Shea Weber, who practiced with the Predators on Wednesday after helping Canada win the Olympic gold medal Sunday in Sochi, said the Predators are definitely excited about the prospect of Rinne returning to the lineup as they try to chase down a playoff spot. "Weve been through a lot this year and to see what position we put ourselves in here four points out coming in its not going to be easy by any means," Weber said. "If anyone can do it, we can." Michael Cooper Lakers Jersey . -- Desperate to stop Tom Bradys latest comeback bid, the Miami Dolphins sought help from a reserve safety making his NFL debut after being signed Tuesday off the San Francisco 49ers practice squad. LeBron James Jersey . 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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Coming off a four-game losing streak, the Toronto Maple Leafs put an emphasis on getting off to better starts. Theyve been doing just that and its led to their longest win streak in seven years. Jonathan Bernier stopped 39 shots and the Maple Leafs used a fast start to kick off another big scoring night, beating the Phoenix Coyotes 4-2 Monday for their first five-game winning streak since 2007. "It feel great and feels great for a goalie too," Bernier said of getting off to fast starts. "Thats our main focus; we know if we score the first goal in this league, you have a good chance to win." With Bernier making some tough saves early, Toronto jumped out to a 3-0 lead by early in the second period. The Maple Leafs withstood a flurry of shots by Phoenix, thanks to some tough saves by Bernier and some near-misses by the Coyotes, and pulled away to win five straight games for the first time since Jan. 27-Feb. 6, 2007. Phil Kessel had a goal and an assist to extend his points streak to six games. Jake Gardiner and Nazem Kadri also had a goal and an assist, and Carl Gunnarsson scored his first goal in nearly a year. Buoyed by their fast starts, the Maple Leafs have scored 20 goals during their winning streak. "We feel this group can continue to grow and play to a higher level -- enough talking about it," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. "Action speaks louder than words and we have to continue to challenge this group to play better and become a playoff team." The Coyotes had plenty of chances. Most of them were turned away by Bernier, a few by the goal posts and numerous others just missed the mark, leading to a frustrating loss. Phoenix matched a team record by scoring a power-play goal in eight straight games when Mike Ribeiro scored early in the third period and Antoine Vermette added a short-handed goal. "Its disappointing," Vermette said. "We felt out there we had a lot of great scoring chances and we had a good night, but it went to them." The Maple Leafs followed their four-game losing streak by pouring in goals during a four-game winning streak. Toronto kept it rolling against the Coyotes, scoriing two goals in 2:02 late in the first period.dddddddddddd After both teams traded good scoring chances, Gardiner scored by gathering a loose puck out front and beating Mike Smith from close range. Phoenix defenceman Zbynek Michalek went to the penalty box for sending the puck over the glass in his own end and then Kessel capitalized on the ensuing power play, scoring his 24th of the season with help from a screen by James van Riemsdyk out front. Gunnarsson made it 3-0 with his first goal since Jan. 24, 2013, controlling a pass from Dion Phaneuf with his foot and beating Smith to the stick side. The first two periods were filled with near-misses for the Coyotes: Lauri Korpikoski hit the crossbar in the first period, Oliver Ekman-Larsson the post in the second and Shane Doan couldnt corral a stretch pass for a breakaway. Phoenix had numerous other shots just miss the goal and Bernier made some spectacular saves, including a sliding stop on a one-time by Ekman-Larsson on a power play. The Coyotes had 27 shots on goal and 16 other shots through the first two periods. "Their goalie was playing well," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "I think he was fortunate to have a few pucks hit the crossbar and things like that, but when youre having a night we were, those bounces go the other way." They finally broke through on a power play early in the third period, when Keith Yandle found Ribeiro at the side of the net and he knocked it in past Bernier. The Coyotes had a slew of penalties after that and Kadri cashed in on the third one with his first goal in 12 games to put the Maple Leafs up 4-1. Vermette scored Phoenixs first short-handed goal of the season after that, but the Coyotes couldnt get anything past Bernier, who is 3-0 against Phoenix. Notes: Coyotes C Martin Hanzal, tied for the team lead with 14 goals, did not play and is listed day to day with a lower-body injury. ... Kessel and Coyotes RW David Moss, who are cousins, played against each other in the NHL for the eighth time. ... Toronto won at Phoenix for the first time since 2003, a span of four games. ... Yandle extended his points streak to four games with his assist on Ribeiros goal. Wholesale NFL Womens Jerseys China NFL Jerseys Cheap NFL Jerseys Authentic Cheap Jerseys Wholesale Cheap NFL Jerseys Authentic Jerseys NFL China NFL Jerseys Outlet ' ' '
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