HERSHEY -- When the Hershey Bears woke up Wednesday morning, they found themselves in an unfamiliar place.
For the first time this season, they were not in first place in the East Division.
Now they face the very real prospect of tumbling all the way to third.
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers moved two points ahead of the Bears with a victory Tuesday night, and they stayed there when the Bears dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the Springfield Falcons on Wednesday at Giant Center.
Although the Bears did pick up a point for the shootout loss, they are still a point behind the Sound Tigers and now just three points ahead of the third place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, who cruised to an 8-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phantoms on Wednesday.
By Saturday, the next time the Bears take the ice, the edge over the Penguins could be down to one. The Penguins play Friday in Albany while the Bears are idle, then head to Hershey to take on the Bears with a chance to pull ahead. Bridgeport, meanwhile, will be in Hershey on Sunday.
"We weren't playing like a team today that's deserving of first place, especially in our division," said Hershey's Andrew Gordon. "We sort of seem to be coming into games with a different mindset now. Instead of coming in to play our game to win, we're allowing ourselves to slip mentally, allowing ourselves to -- not taking anything away from our opponents, ever -- but not playing like a first place team."
"It was a weird night," said Hershey coach Bob Woods.
Ultimately, the difference was probably Springfield goalie Devan Dubnyk, who, despite an abysmal won-lost record, boasts of one of the better save percentages in the league, a solid .903 percent.
"Ever since I've been here, there's been zero blame going toward our goaltender," said Springfield's Shane Willis. "Every night he's kept us in the game, kept it close, and we just haven't been able to put the puck in the net for him."
Dubnyk's performance almost stopped the Bears from taking anything out of the game. The Falcons staked him to a 1-0 lead on Gilbert Brule's power-play goal at 1:44. The Bears tied the game when Alexandre Giroux scored on a 4-on-3 power play 43 seconds into the second, and the 1-1 count held until the final six-plus minutes of regulation.
Springfield took a 2-1 lead when Ryan Potulny deflected Ryan Constant's left point shot over Hershey goalie Simeon Varlamov at 13:45. Gordon got the equalizer when he shoveled a feed from Francois Bouchard just over Dubnyk's pad.
Willis very nearly gave the Falcons the lead with 43.4 seconds left, lifting a backhander from the left side that Varlamov managed to stop as he slid across the front of the net. The Bears had one big chance early in overtime, but Giroux, coming around the net, couldn't control the puck as Dubnyk managed to stretch across to partially deflect it.
In the shootout, Dubnyk made pad saves on Staffan Kronwall, Giroux and Keith Aucoin before Bouchard finally scored on a spin move. That proved inconsequential, however, when Charles Linglet scored in the fourth round for the Falcons after Willis and Brule had scored earlier to close out the Bears.