DALLAS -- Tonight's game with the Dallas Stars here is interesting in that the two teams have kind of traded places.

Last year it was the Wild that was on the outside of the playoff race looking in for much of the season while the high-scoring Stars were frontrunners much of the season, ultimately ending up as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

Entering tonight's game? With a victory the Wild would take over the top spot in the Western Conference, with Sunday's game with Chiago looming. Dallas – which has been at .500 14 times in a season marred by injury and inconsistent play – enters tonight's game 11th in the conference.

"You'd think they'd be there,'' Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said of the Stars, expected by many to be at or near the top of the standings. "And they still may be at the end. They're a team quite capable of putting a good run together. But nothing surprises me in hockey any more. I mean, they're probably just as surprised at where we're at.''

Well, maybe not.

Dallas coach Lindy Ruff is a big fan of the Wild's defensemen, saying he thought that group was on the cusp of big things last year. But Ruff said Boudreau's impact is clear to see. Not so much in Xs and Os, but in attitude.

"I think, to me, it looks a lot like attitude," Ruff said. "The attitude of the team, and where their focus is. I think the addition of (Eric) Staal has really helped them. But the maturity of the back end. I like the mobility. I like the way they defend. I think they were close to that last year. And I think some pieces have come into place. That's what I've seen.''

--By the way, the goalie matchup tonight will be Antti Niemi vs. Darcy Kuemper. Kuempe is 2-0-1 in his last three starts, having allowed nine goals.

--By the numbers:

-The Wild officially closes the first half of the season tonight. With a win they'd tie Chicago for most points in the West.

-The Wild has a 10-game point streak on the road (8-0-2), two off the franchise record.

-The Wild is 3-1-2 in the last six regular season games vs. Dallas.

-The Wild has scored a goal in 10 of the last 12 games.