As their first-round playoff series moves to the Kemper Arena, the battle between the Utah Grizzlies and Kansas City Blades can't possibly get any tighter than it was in the first two games at the E Center.

Both games went down to the wire - one ended in overtime and the other wasn't decided till the final buzzer. Both games finished with identical scores of 4-3. Both squads won one game. Both teams have complained about officiating after their loss. And, both sides can make pretty good arguments that they should be up 2-0."As I've said all along, I expect this to be a very difficult series," said Utah coach Butch Goring. "I expect it to be a close series. We don't expect Kansas City to quit at any time during the game. That's how they play, they just keep plodding along."

The Grizzlies should have learned that by now. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first 20 minutes of each game, but Kansas City then managed to tie them at 3-all in the third period both times. The Blades went on to win Game 1 in overtime; the Grizzlies won Game 2 on Jeff Sharples game-winner with 33 seconds remaining.

"I think talent-wise we are" the better team, said Grizzlies center Kip Miller. "But you know they keep coming after ya. They've got some goals when they needed 'em."

BREAKING THE LAW: During the regular season, the Grizz were the least-penalized team in the IHL, averaging about 19.5 penalty minutes a game.

But the Grizzlies are suddenly acting like they have a penalty quota. They had 26 PIMs on 13 infractions in Game 1 and 30 PIMs on 13 penalties in Game 2.

So, what's gotten into them?

"I think it's the intensity level," Goring said. "And it's the `You're not going to get one up on me' type scenario . . . That's just not smart hockey."

The penalties led to the Grizzlies' breakdown and eventual demise in overtime of Game 1. And Miller's untimely penalty in the third period sparked K.C. on its comeback in Game 2.

"Once we get the lead we can't beat ourselves. This is what we're doing by taking dumb penalties," Goring said. "We're averaging way too many penalties . . . The (non-defensive zone) penalties aren't getting anything done and all they're doing is digging a hole for us."

DOH! HE'S NO HOMER: Goring openly criticized linesman Steve Metcalf for a couple of his calls during Game 1, and he even called the official "anti-Grizzlies."

Regardless, Metcalf was again on the E Center ice for Game 2. Goring had no complaints about the Salt Lake area resident this time, though. Coincidentally, the Grizzlies happened to win.

"I don't control who the IHL assigns to do the games, that's for sure," said Goring. "I was a little frustrated the other night, obviously, with the loss . . . (but) I thought he did a very good game (on Monday)."

Goring believes that Metcalf, who lives in the Salt Lake area, tries to go out of his way to prove he's not biased for his local team.

"I think it's very difficult for a hometown guy that we see game in and game out to not be concerned with being called a homer," he said. "I think Steve Metcalf doesn't want to be labeled a homer and I think that hurts us on many occasions.

"I don't think he comes to the rink and says, `I'm going to (try to hurt) the Grizzlies.' I think when he's put under the pressure of having to do our games, game in and game out, it's a tough scenario."

GAMES ON RADIO: Games 3 and 4 will be broadcast live on the radio Friday and Saturday on 630 AM at 6:30 p.m.

*****

Additional Information

IHL playoffs

Blades vs. Grizz

First round (best-of-five)

Game 1

Kansas City 4, Utah 3

Game 2

Utah 4, Kansas City 3

Game 3 - Friday

Utah at Kansas City, 6:30 p.m.

*Game 4 - April 25

Utah at Kansas City, 6:30 p.m.

*Game 5 - April 27

Kansas City at Utah, 7 p.m.

*-if necessary