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Flyers earn final playoff spot, Crosby nets 50th

NHL.com @NHL

While the rest of the NHL wrapped up the regular season, the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers got a jump start on the playoffs.

Sidney Crosby put on a show of his own Sunday and nearly skated off with another scoring title. He settled for a share of his first goal championship.

For Philadelphia, the season will continue through at least one playoff round. The Rangers are done. A late-season surge fell a shootout short.

Both the Flyers and Rangers faced the same Game 7 reality on Sunday in Game 82 of the season. Win and you're in. Lose and go home. Henrik Lundqvist starred for New York by making 46 saves through overtime, but he was beaten twice in the shootout and took a 2-1 loss.

Philadelphia clinched the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and became the NHL's last participant to qualify for the playoffs. The Flyers went from early season Stanley Cup contenders to nearly missing the postseason. Now they will face the second-seeded New Jersey Devils in the opening round and will try to live up to previous expectations.

That brings us to Sid the Kid, who closed the regular season in style.

One night after the Pittsburgh Penguins' 1-0 disappointing loss at Atlanta wrecked the defending Stanley Cup champions' bid for the Atlantic Division title, Crosby gave them something to celebrate. The 22-year-old captain hit the 50-goal milestone for the first time in his already brilliant five-year NHL career.

Crosby didn't stop there. His second goal against the Islanders, scored 55 seconds into the middle period, gave him a league-best 51 goals and his first Maurice Richard Trophy. He is the co-winner with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, whose empty-net goal Sunday was his 51st.

Crosby blew past two-time defending league MVP Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Stamkos, who both began the day with 50 goals. Crosby had two goals and three assists in Pittsburgh's 6-5 overtime victory Sunday.

The fourth-seeded Penguins will start their playoff defense of the Cup with fifth-seeded Ottawa.

Ovechkin, the NHL's top goal scorer the past two seasons, also finished second in the overall points race to Vancouver's Henrik Sedin.

Sedin had four assists to regain the lead Saturday night when the Canucks played their final game and won the Art Ross Trophy with 112 points. That left him three points ahead of Crosby and Ovechkin, who was shut out in the Capitals' 4-3 shootout loss to Boston in Sunday's finale.

Now Alex the Great can turn his attention to the playoffs, where the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals will look to make noise. They were stopped last year by Crosby and the Penguins and are looking to get to the finals for the first time since 1998.

Washington, which earned an NHL-best 121 points, will open against Montreal. The Canadiens dropped to the No. 8 seed when Philadelphia beat the Rangers.

Buffalo, the Northeast Division champion, could have moved up to the second seed in the East with a win at New Jersey on Sunday, but the Sabres lost 2-1 and dropped to No. 3 and into a first-round matchup against Boston.

The San Jose Sharks finished first in the West for the second straight year and will try to turn that into postseason success that has often eluded them. Last season they captured their first Presidents' Trophy, but were knocked out in the first round by No. 8 Anaheim.

This time the Sharks will take their chances with eighth-seeded Colorado. Central Division champion Chicago will take on Nashville in the 2 vs. 7 series, and the third-seeded Canucks will face the No. 6 Los Angeles Kings, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Surprising Phoenix, which nearly came out of nowhere to pry the Pacific title and the top seed away from the Sharks, has the tough task of taking on No. 5 Detroit. The dangerous Red Wings have been in the Stanley Cup finals each of the past two years against Pittsburgh, winning the championship in 2008 and falling in seven games to the Penguins last June.

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