Crosby scored two goals in the first eight minutes of the game as the Penguins stormed to a 3-1 lead after one period.
But his attempt to author another comeback for the record books was thwarted by a spirited response from the Islanders, who scored three unanswered goals to earn a 4-3 victory that squared the best-of-7 series 1-1.
"We know that we didn't play the way we needed to," Crosby said. "They got a few bounces, but they worked for them. I don't think we feel like we did enough to deserve that one."
Crosby, out since March 30, certainly did enough in his return. He scored twice in the first 7:22, played more than 23 minutes, registered eight shots, and won 14 of 26 faceoffs.
"I thought he didn't miss a beat. He skated well, he was on pucks, he was strong," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "In addition to his two goals he had a couple other dangerous situations and plays and was good in the faceoff circle. I thought he was very good getting back in there after missing 13 games."
Crosby was dominant in the first period, playing 4:18. He did not score on his first shift, which started at the 1:13 mark -- by then, the Penguins were leading 1-0 on a goal by Evgeni Malkin that came 43 seconds after the opening faceoff.
Crosby did score during his first power-play action, depositing a pass from Jarome Iginla into an open net at 3:19. Crosby started the play with an attack-zone faceoff win, then placed himself on the doorstep of Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, where he was left unguarded to receive Iginla's pass.
"It was great to have him back," Iginla said of Crosby. "I thought both his goals were big for our team, and especially his second right after they scored to make it 3-1."
Crosby's second came at 7:22, 18 seconds after the Islanders cut the lead to 2-1 on a power-play goal by Matt Moulson.
This time, Crosby pounced on a rebound of a Pascal Dupuis shot and proved that a bad angle was no deterrent. Despite straddling the goal line extended to the left of Nabokov, Crosby was able to corral the puck and fire it high into the corner.
Crosby finished the period with three shots and was 7-for-7 in the faceoff circle.
In the second period, Crosby played 9:45 and managed two more shots. He also hit the post on a power play late in the period. In the third, it was more of the same -- Crosby was dangerous throughout, although his effectiveness in the faceoff circle waned.
"All right," Crosby said when asked to rate his return. "Definitely a little bit of rust, but there's not a lot of time (Game 3 is Sunday at noon), so we've got to find a way to create things out there and be better."
Crosby has a history of dramatic comebacks.
On Nov. 21, 2011, he returned from a major concussion scare, also to face the Islanders, and had two goals and two assists in a 5-0 victory. On March 15, 2012, he returned from another bout with concussion symptoms and had a pair of assists in a 5-2 win against the New York Rangers.