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Sidney Crosby's return is drawing near, which may be very bad news for the rest of the league since the Pittsburgh Penguins have been rolling without him.

Pittsburgh seeks a season-high ninth consecutive victory by ending a three-game home skid to the Boston Bruins on Sunday.

The Penguins initially hoped Crosby could return in time to face Boston, but he approached the contest with caution and decided not to risk coming back too soon.

Crosby, who hasn't played since again experiencing concussion-like symptoms following a Dec. 5 loss to the Bruins, is hopeful of returning for Thursday's road game against the New York Rangers.

Given the increased intensity as teams fight for playoff positioning down the stretch, he isn't about to rush himself back.

"This is something you don't want to mess around with," Crosby said. "You've got to make sure, especially this time of year. It's more physical than ever and you have to make sure everything is well-tested and I have to make sure I've done the right things to prepare."

When Crosby does return, Pittsburgh (41-21-5) figures to be even tougher to beat than it has been during an eight-game winning streak.

The Penguins, who are 20-4-1 since Jan. 13 after defeating Florida 2-1 in a shootout Friday, could move within two points of the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers with a win Sunday. The Rangers host the New York Islanders on Sunday night.

Steve Sullivan scored the tying goal in the third period, and James Neal and Evgeni Malkin converted in the shootout to help the Penguins to their second eight-game winning streak during their current tear.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves and has allowed one goal in each of his last three games. He is 6-0-0 with a 1.14 goals-against average in his last six starts.

Fleury, second in the league with 36 wins, made 28 saves in a 2-1 win over Boston on Feb. 4, though he took the loss in a 3-1 defeat to the Bruins at home in Crosby's most recent game.

That loss also marked the third straight win in Pittsburgh for the Bruins (40-24-3), who are clinging to the second seed in the East while leading the Northeast Division by a narrow margin over Ottawa.

Boston fell 4-3 to Washington on Saturday after beating Toronto on Tuesday and Buffalo on Thursday for its first two-game win streak since Jan. 10 and 12.

The Bruins allowed the first goal for the fourth straight game and fell behind 2-0 for the second time in that span - something coach Claude Julien is fed up with.

"That's twice in less than a week now we've spotted teams two-goal leads and to me, it's frustrating," Julien told the team's official website. "You keep digging yourself a hole and having to dig yourself out."

Brad Marchand had a goal and an assist for Boston, which got 26 saves from Tim Thomas as he made his eighth straight start.

It's unclear if Thomas will be in net for a second consecutive day, or if newly signed backup Marty Turco will make his season debut.

Turco, who cleared waivers Wednesday and replaces the injured Tuukka Rask, was playing overseas this season after spending 2010-11 with Chicago.

Boston has outscored the Penguins 14-7 in the last three meetings in Pittsburgh. Malkin scored the game-winning goal March 7, 2010, in the Penguins' last home victory in the series.

Tagged: Bruins, Rangers, Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Tim Thomas

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