Flyers earn final playoff spot, Crosby nets 50th

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.

“Both teams had to go through it, they are not going to whine

about it. That’s how it is,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said.

“When we got to that point we thought we had the advantage. No

disrespect to their shooters, but with Henrik there we felt

good.”

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.

“Hopefully, we can do something with our lifeline here and use

the excitement and euphoria from this win and from our last little

stretch of games here to propel us and do good things here in the

playoffs,” Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger said.

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

style.

One night after the Pittsburgh Penguins’ disappointing 1-0 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-netter in the closing

seconds Sunday of the Lightning’s 3-1 win over Florida was his 51st

goal.

“That’s probably the fastest I’ve skated all year,” said the

20-year-old Stamkos, who finished his second NHL season. “After

all the posts I’ve had, sometimes you get one like that. It’s nice

either way. I’ll take it. I guess it was meant to be, to get that

one in the empty net.”

Word reached Crosby on the Penguins bench that Stamkos got even.

Pittsburgh was leading 5-4 with about 10 minutes left in

regulation, but couldn’t get Crosby another goal.

It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Crosby said when asked if he was pushing

to score again. “There is nothing wrong with scoring a goal. There

is nothing wrong with wanting to do that. I was trying not to cheat

out there. The main thing was we were up 5-4 at the time. We were

trying to get that goal. It wasn’t like we were up 5-2.”

Crosby passed Stamkos – at least momentarily – and two-time

defending league MVP Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who

both began the day with 50 goals. Crosby had two goals and three

assists in Pittsburgh’s 6-5 overtime victory Sunday.

“It’s nice. I put a lot of hard work into it,” Crosby

said.

The fourth-seeded Penguins will start their playoff defense of

the Cup against fifth-seeded Ottawa.

“We know that we’ve got to start right away, not wait a couple

of games to get into it,” Crosby said. “We know what is expected

of us.”

Ovechkin, the NHL’s top goal scorer the past two seasons, and

Crosby finished tied for second in the overall points race behind

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 a franchise-record 112 points – including 83 assists. 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 in regulation at New Jersey

on Sunday, but the Sabres lost 2-1 and dropped to No. 3 and into a

first-round matchup against Boston.

Martin Brodeur made 22 saves to earn his 45th win of the season

and secure his fifth William Jennings Trophy as the goalie for the

team that gives up the fewest goals.

Brodeur played in 77 of New Jersey’s 82 games, and the Devils

yielded only 191 goals. Brodeur is tied with Patrick Roy for the

most Jennings Trophy wins since the award was introduced in the

1981-82 season.

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 seed 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 last June.