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Sidney Crosby delayed his return to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night, perhaps taking into account the team's offensive surge in the last five games he missed.

Sidney Crosby's return could come not a moment too soon as the Pens try to rebound from an embarrassing 4-1 loss to the Islanders Monday night. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

After Pittsburgh's latest performance, however, Crosby might be persuaded to get back on the ice as quickly as possible.

Coming off their lowest scoring game in nearly a month, the Penguins hope to have Crosby back as they try to clinch a playoff berth Tuesday when they visit the New Jersey Devils.

Crosby skated with his teammates Monday morning, but ruled himself out for that night's game against the New York Islanders. A sprained right ankle has forced the reigning MVP to miss 27 of 30 games, including six in a row.

In the first five games of that six-game stretch, the Penguins (43-26-7) scored 27 goals and cruised to a 4-1-0 record. On Monday, however, they fell 4-1 against the lowly Islanders, failing to score at least two goals for the first time since a 5-1 loss at Boston on Feb. 28.

"Really, really disappointed with the performance," said Penguins coach Michel Therrien, whose team dropped three points behind Montreal in the race for first in the Eastern Conference with six games remaining. "I'm speechless about their effort, I'm speechless about their concentration and their will to win this game."

The playoff implications of Tuesday's game could convince Crosby to try to make his comeback against New Jersey (42-26-7), which is directly behind the Atlantic Division-leading Penguins.

However, Crosby doesn't want to rush his return and aggravate the injury as he did earlier this month.

"It's a big game but it's a little bit easier probably not to push yourself when the team is playing so well," he said. "You have to feel good injury-wise. I have felt a lot better as we've gone along here the last week or so. As long as that continues and I continue to get in shape, hopefully it'll be soon.

"It's felt the best it has in months right now, and that's a good sign."

Therrien called Crosby day-to-day, but liked what he saw Monday.

"I'm really optimistic," he said. "He looked really, really good."

Martin Brodeur is only 3-3-0 with a 3.83 GAA versus the Penguins this year. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Even if Crosby can't return, the Penguins fared well enough without him in their last meeting with the Devils. Pittsburgh cruised to a 7-1 victory on Saturday to pass New Jersey for the division lead.

Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin had two goals and an assist in that game, and has 20 goals and 26 assists in the 27 total games Crosby has missed.

Including Saturday's loss, the Devils have been outscored 11-3 in going 0-2-1 in their last three games. They've gone winless in four straight games just once this season - an 0-3-1 stretch Oct. 18-27.

"Hopefully this is a wake-up call," said Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who gave up four of Pittsburgh's goals before he was pulled Saturday. "I think we've got to step up our game to a better level, what our competition is doing to us the last few games."

Brodeur is 40-24-6 with a 2.17 goals-against average this season, but he's just 3-3-0 with a 3.83 GAA in six starts against the Penguins, who have gone 3-3-1 in the season series entering the finale.

Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to be in net for Pittsburgh after Ty Conklin started Monday. Fleury is 1-2-0 with a 2.70 GAA in three starts against New Jersey.

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