He then showed why he is so valuable, assisting on the game-winner with 2:47 left in the Penguins' 2-0 win over the the Lightning.
Crosby, out since Jan. 18, unexpectedly took part in the team's pregame skate Tuesday morning. Crosby, last season's NHL scoring champion and most valuable player, was injured when his right skate slammed hard into the rear boards during the Lightning-Penguins game in Pittsburgh more than six weeks ago and hasn't played since.
He had not taken part in a full practice since Feb. 18 and it was not anticipated he would play until Sunday in Washington at the earliest. He was seen limping after that practice two weeks ago, and he did not go on a three-game Eastern road swing last week.
Crosby was told after being hurt he would be out six to eight weeks, and last Friday marked six weeks.
"I feel pretty strong right now -- that's what I based my decision on, how much strength I had and whether I could do the things out there I normally could do," Crosby said.
The 20-year-old Crosby began feeling better while skating on his own in Pittsburgh last week and flew to Tampa with the team Monday. He was leading the league in scoring with 63 points when he was hurt but, during his 21-game absence, teammate Evgeni Malkin has moved into second place with 88 points in 67 games.
The Penguins were 11-6-4 during Crosby's absence and are in contention for the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference titles. Since Crosby was hurt, the Penguins added All-Star forward Marian Hossa in a trade with Atlanta, but he injured a knee in his first game with the team last week and is not ready to play again.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this story.