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." Stitched Athletics Jerseys .The Canadian teenage golf sensation announced Thursday shell join the LPGA Tour in 2015 instead of attending the University of Florida. Oakland Athletics Gear .com) - On a night the Bulls played without Derrick Rose, it was time for Pau Gasol to take charge. https://www.cheapathleticsonline.com/ . Fifth-seeded Cilic gained his fourth title in Zagreb and became the third Croat overall to win at least 10 career titles. Cilic also lifted his career record in Zagreb to 22-4, winning 20 of his last 21 matches at the event. Athletics Jerseys 2020 . A wide-eyed 18-year-old visiting North America for only the second time in his young life, Caboclo immediately noticed the "big tower" his new home is best known for. Oakland Athletics Pro Shop . -- Jonathan Diaz is easy to spot in the Blue Jays clubhouse.Charlottesville, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - Ralph Sampson was in attendance for Thursday nights ACC showdown between No. 2 Virginia and Georgia Tech, but mightve had mixed feelings. His alma mater is still undefeated following another splendid defensive effort. His son Robert, meanwhile, felt some of the brunt of that stingy Cavaliers Pack Line defense. Malcom Brogdon had 13 points and four assists as Virginia shut down the Yellow Jackets 57-28 to remain one of two unbeaten teams in the country. Virginia (18-0, 6-0 ACC) held Georgia Tech to just 24.5 percent (12-of-49) shooting from the floor and didnt allow a 3-point basket (0-of-12). The Cavs are off to their best start since 1980-81, when Ralph Sampson helped them win their first 23 games. Marcus Georges-Hunt led the Yellow Jackets (9-9, 0-6) with just seven points. Robert Sampson was 1-of-6 from the field and finished with two points and seven rebounds for Georgia Tech, which is off to its worst start in ACC play since beginning 0-6 during the 2008-09 campaign. Final Score: (7) Arizona 89, Stanford 82 Stanford, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - Stanley Johnson had 19 points, Brandon Ashley scored 17 and No. 7 Arizona pulled away in the second half for an 89-82 win over Stanford on Thursday night. Gabe York added 13 points and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 12 for the Wildcats (17-2, 5-1 Pac-12), who have won three in a row to share first place in the conference with No. 12 Utah. Arizona was coming off a 69-51 win over Utah on Saturday. Chasson Randle scored 26 points to lead Stanford (13-5, 4-2), which had a three-game winning streak snapped. Anthony Brown added 18 points and nine rebounds and Stefan Nastic scored 10 in the loss. Final Score: (8) Notre Dame 85, Virginia Tech 60 Blacksburg, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - Pat Connaughton made five of Notre Dames 12 3-pointers and the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish cruised to an 85-60 road victory over Virginia Tech on Thursday. Connaughton finisheed with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the wire-to-wire win for the Irish (18-2, 6-1 ACC), whose only loss in the last 15 games came against No.dddddddddddd 2 Virginia. Jerian Grant totaled 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists, Zach Auguste added 16 points and eight boards, and Demetrius Jackson scored 12 in the rout. The Hokies (8-10, 0-5) have been trending the opposite way and dropped their sixth straight overall, though the last three came against ranked opponents. Ahmed Hills 13 points paced Virginia Tech in the absence of leading scorer Justin Bibbs, who sat out a second straight game due to a concussion. Final Score: (23) Indiana 89, (13) Maryland 70 Bloomington, IN (SportsNetwork.com) - Yogi Ferrell went 7-of-8 from beyond the arc en route to 24 points as the 23rd-ranked Indiana Hoosiers took down the No. 13 Maryland Terrapins, 89-70, on Thursday. James Blackmon Jr. added 22 points for the Hoosiers (15-4, 5-1 Big Ten), who shot 60 percent from the field and went 15-of-22 from 3-point range. Troy Williams and Collin Hartman tallied 16 and 15 points, respectively, with Williams also pulling down seven rebounds. Jake Layman ended with 13 points for the Terrapins (17-3, 5-2), who had a three-game winning streak snapped. Jared Nickens and Melo Trimble contributed 12 and 10 points, respectively. Final Score: DePaul 64, (24) Seton Hall 60 Newark, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - Myke Henry collected 14 points and Billy Garrett posted 13 points and DePaul dispatched No. 24 Seton Hall by a 64-60 count on Thursday. Darrick Wood added 11 points while Rashaun Stimage had 10 points with seven rebounds for the Blue Demons (11-9, 5-2 Big East), who have won two in a row and four of their last six. Angel Delgado poured in 19 points and 19 boards for the Pirates (13-5, 3-3), who have dropped three of four since beating Villanova on Jan. 3. Khadeen Carrington picked up 12 points in a losing cause. ' ' '