It isn't actually a requirement that the Grizzlies and Kansas City Blades always have to play each other in the IHL playoffs.

It's just happened that way. Year after year after year after year.This will be the third straight year the two teams open up the postseason against each other. Game 1 of the best-of-five series begins tonight at 7 at the E Center.

To say the least, the Blades haven't especially enjoyed the annual get-together. And who's to blame them? After all, they've had as much success against the Grizz as the Utes have had playing Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.

Just in case your memory's short, that would be none at all. Here's a quick refresher course: - Three years ago, the Blades made it to the Turner Cup championship series, where they were swept in four games by the Denver Grizzlies.

- When the Grizz moved to Utah two years ago, they edged the Blades 3-2 in the opening round. Utah, of course, then went on to win the IHL championship.

- Utah also ended Kansas City's playoff run last year with a three-game sweep in the first round.

Kansas City won the season series 3-2 this year, and the law of averages might finally seem to be against the Grizz, but Utah coach Butch Goring likes his team's chances, again.

"I'd rather be playing a team that I've been beating all the time than a team that I haven't been beating. At least we have confidence going in," Goring said. "I think they're like anybody else, they certainly question whether they can beat us, and until they do they won't know."

The Grizz have made a habit of giving them an early vacation, but the Blades insist they're not seeking a payback. Even K.C. defenseman Claudio Scremin, who's played for the Blades in each of the losses to the Grizzlies, refused to say revenge was on their mind.

"They're the same jerseys, but there are a lot of different guys," he said. "We know it's going to be a hard haul. It's who wants it most is who's likely going to get it."

The Blades' biggest motivation is simply to advance - whether it be against the Grizzlies or not.

"I think the only personal thing about it is that we all want to be the team that wins. Everybody's in this to win championships," said Kansas City coach Paul MacLean. "I don't think it's any more satisfying to beat the Grizzlies or beat the Ice Dogs or beat anyone."

The fifth-seeded Blades (41-29-12) might be catching the Grizzlies at the right time.

Utah, the Western Conference's fourth seed with a 47-27-8 record, is entering the playoffs on a four-game losing skid.

Plus, the Grizzlies are missing their best defenseman, as Jan Vo-pat won't return until the Los Angeles Kings get eliminated from the NHL playoffs.

Utah's goalie situation is also a bit shaky coming into tonight's opener. Jamie Ram will probably get the start between the pipes over Mark McArthur, but neither has been spectacular over a stretch of games this season.

On the bright side, Utah got a boost on Tuesday, when forward Mark Lawrence was returned from the parent New York Islanders. He had 64 points in 80 games with the Grizz this season.

Goring is hoping the Grizzlies can survive the first round, because they should get all of the players on their playoff roster back within the next two weeks.

"If we get by this first round, we'll be a much stronger hockey club," he said.

Still, Goring feels his team has an edge over Kansas City.

"It's going to be a very, very tough series for us, because we're going to be undermanned," he said. "Do I think they're better than us? No, I don't think they're better than us. I think they've got a very good hockey team and they're going to be very difficult."

Ultimately, he said the series will come down to goaltending and special teams, and the Grizz have traditionally fared well in both areas during the postseason.

"They're going to be gunning for us, that's for sure," added Utah center Chris Taylor. "We have to be ready. We're going to have to be at the top of our game to beat these guys."

*****

IHL playoffs

BLADES VS. GRIZZLIES

First round

(Best-of-five)

Game 1 - Today

K.C. at Utah, 7 p.m.

Game 2 - Monday

K.C. at Utah, 7 p.m.

Game 3 - Friday, April 24

Utah at K.C., 6:30 p.m.

*Game 4 - Saturday, April 25

Utah at K.C., 6:30 p.m.

*Game 5 - Monday, April 27

K.C. at Utah, 7 p.m.

*-if necessary