NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne has been cleared to return from a knee injury that kept him out the past three weeks, and he will start Thursday night against the Anaheim Ducks.
Nashville re-assigned goalie Marek Mazanec back to Milwaukee in the AHL on Wednesday, and coach Peter Laviolette said after practice Wednesday that they pushed back Rinne's return to err on the side of caution. Laviolette told reporters Rinne now is ready to go.
''He's going to have to continue to work hard and get back into the game shape that he was in,'' Laviolette said. ''He was right on top of his game. By the way, he looks out there right now he's on his way back.''
Rinne hurt his knee Jan. 13 against Vancouver with the Predators expecting the goalie to miss at least three weeks and possibly up to five weeks. He wound up missing eight games. Though he also sat out his first All-Star Game to recover. Rinne had been skating the past week.
The two-time Vezina Trophy finalist returns still sitting leading the NHL with 29 wins. He also ranks second with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage.
The Predators are tied with Anaheim atop the Western Conference with 72 points with a game in hand, and they are 3-1-1 in their past five games with Carter Hutton stepping up in Rinne's absence. Hutton got a shutout win Sunday in Pittsburgh.
''Carter has been playing really well, and I think I was fortunate to take my time and make sure that I'm 100 percent when I come back,'' Rinne said.