DENVER -- They could have called this one the Growing Pains Cup. Or the Promise Cup. Take your pick; they represent two sides of the same developmental coin.
So much raw young talent on the ice at the Pepsi Center on Monday night, so much uncertainty, so much frustration, as the St. Louis Blues and the Colorado Avalanche tangled in their second-to-last game before the All-Star break.
Two struggling teams desperate to trade some of that promise into some points in the standings.
When the ice chips had been swept away Monday night, it was the Avalanche getting goals from a 25-year-old, a 23-year-old and a 22-year-old in a 4-3 victory.
"It's huge, especially going into the All-Star break," Colorado defenseman John-Michael Liles told ESPN.com after the victory, which pushed the Avs back into the top eight in the Western Conference.
According to our good friends at Elias Sports Bureau, the Blues are the second-youngest team in the NHL and the Avs the fourth. With injuries to veteran players on both teams, that youthfulness has been even more evident in recent games. Both teams entered this season riding a wave of optimism despite that youth, or perhaps, because of it.
The Blues had fallen just short of the playoffs last season with rookie coach Davis Payne seeming to have returned the Blues to the path that saw them surge into the playoffs in 2009. The Avs, meanwhile, had defied skeptics and made the playoffs. With one of the most dynamic offenses in the league through the first third of this season, Colorado even seemed ready to take a big step toward contender status.
Yet coming into Monday's clash, neither team was in the playoff picture in the highly competitive Western Conference. The Blues had won just twice in their past 10 games, while the Avs had been mauled at home by Nashville and Boston in their past two outings and had won just four times in their past 11 contests.
But Monday, the Avs found a way, even if it was a bit of an adventure along the way.
After taking a 1-0 lead on a Blues' turnover at their blue line, the Avs returned the favor by giving up the puck behind their own net and allowing Jay McClement to score untouched from the deep slot. Immediately after, the Avs allowed the Blues a number of good scoring chances, prompting sophomore coach Joe Sacco to call a time out. Then, St. Louis defenseman Eric Brewer snuck in from the blue line and gave the Blues a 2-1 lead.
For two teams that have revealed themselves as fragile in recent weeks, it could have been a tipping point. But the Avs got a second goal from a struggling Brandon Yip, who had been a healthy scratch in three of the previous four games. Yip also drew a crucial double-minor high-sticking penalty by Brad Boyes midway through the third period that allowed the Avs to score their second power-play goal of the night.
Last season Yip, 25, was a pleasant surprise, scoring 11 times in a 20-game span after being called up from the AHL. But a shoulder injury slowed his production in the second half of last season, and prior to Monday's game, he had just seven goals in 40 games.
"Definitely brought up the confidence level," Yip acknowledged after the game. He added Monday's win was a confidence-booster for himself and his teammates.
There are mitigating circumstances for both team's struggles. Both squads have been decimated by injury. Coming into Monday's game, the Avs had lost 236 man-games to injury, while the Blues had lost 163 and were without top-six forwards Andy McDonald and David Perron, and regular defensemen Barret Jackman and Carlo Colaiacovo.
But injuries are a part of life in the NHL, and both coaches were looking for their teams to assert themselves after a period of disappointing play.
"We've had a little bit of trouble getting ourselves back collected," Payne noted after the loss.
As for using youth or inexperience as a crutch, the Blues were having none of that. Blues forward David Backes, 26, noted youth hasn't really hurt the Chicago Blackhawks or the Pittsburgh Penguins the past couple of years. Backes, who scored the Blues' third goal Monday night, said youthful energy can be a powerful weapon if channeled in the right direction; otherwise, it can be difficult to turn the tide when things don't go your way.
"It seems to snowball in either direction," Backes said. "We're on the ice to win games. We're expecting to win games."
On Monday, the Avalanche found a way to turn youth into points, while the Blues were left only with the empty feeling of what that promise might someday yield.