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GRIZZLIES NOW HAVE TO FACE THE LEAGUE'S HOTTEST TEAM

The upcoming IHL Western Conference finals showdown between the Utah Grizzlies and Las Vegas Thunder lacks the hype and hoopla of the NBA's marquee matchup featuring Chicago and Orlando. And by a humongous margin.

It by no means lacks the intrigue, though."It's the kind of matchup that everybody's been waiting to happen," said Utah coach Butch Goring. "From Day 1, we expected to meet each other in the Western Conference finals."

And, like expected, eight months later here they are. The only thing that could make this series, which begins Monday night, better would be if it was the Turner Cup championship finals.

Still, it's the best the IHL has to offer.

In one corner, there's the defending IHL champion Grizzlies. In the other, there's the Thunder who have the best team in the league this year.

The Thunder boast the league's most powerful offense. They had two players score more than 100 points in Patrice Lefebvre (114) and Sergei Zholtok (101).

The Grizzlies are the IHL's stingiest defense. Goaltender Tommy Salo, who has allowed just 1.74 goals in the playoffs, would rather let you tell him that his mother wears Swedish army boots than let you score a goal.

And the list goes on . . .

"Las Vegas has had a wonderful season and we've also had a great season," said Goring. "It's a unique situation because you get the best offense against the best defense."

The two Southwest Division teams played like they were fighting for the Turner Cup all season long.

The Thunder, who finished 51-17-8, won the Southwest Division title by a whopping 20 points over the second-place Grizzlies, who finished at 49-29-4. Head-to-head, though, Las Vegas won the first three matchups, but Utah bounced back to win four of the last five to even the series at four apiece.

The Conference finals begin at 8 p.m. on Monday at the Thomas and Mack Center. Game 2 will be at the same time and place on Tuesday, with the series moving back to the Delta Center for games on Thursday, Saturday and, if necessary, Monday.