BURLINGTON, Vt. — Will Merchant was in the middle of two key sequences for the Maine hockey team Friday night.

He whistled in a go-ahead goal, then didn’t hear a whistle when Vermont tied the score before the Catamounts went on to a 4-2 victory in Game 1 of a best-of-three Hockey East playoff series at Gutterson Fieldhouse.

The Black Bears (13-21-3) fell for the eighth consecutive time against Vermont, including five losses this season. But it was a hard-fought game and left Maine feeling good about its effort, if not the outcome.

Merchant took a perfect pass from Nolan Vesey and lined up a wrist shot that beat Vermont goaltender Mike Santaguida high for a 2-1 Maine lead at 6:55 of the third period. The power-play sequence saw Merchant standing alone in the left circle, waiting for Vesey to find him.

“It was a big moment for us to get a power-play goal, get the momentum going for us,” Merchant said. “There was a good amount of net open.”

But the lead lasted less than three minutes.

Vermont won a faceoff in Maine’s end and Merchant skated to the point to challenge a shot by Mike Paliotta. He felt he was interfered with en route and could only watch as Paliotta’s shot deflected off Jarrid Privitera in front of Maine goaltender Matt Morris, bounced high in the air like a baseball player fouling off a bunt attempt, landed behind Morris and slithered into the goal for a 2-2 tie.

Brendan Bradley scored on a wrist shot with 2:07 left for a 3-2 lead and Brady Shaw’s empty-net goal with 1:33 remaining sealed the win for No. 17 Vermont (19-12-4).

Game 2 is at 7 p.m. Saturday here.

“I don’t know what really happened, but it could have went either way if I got interfered or not. I’m not really sure,” Merchant said of the tying goal, which left Maine Coach Red Gendron red in the face. “But they didn’t call anything. It was a good shot by them. I just need to block that next time.”

Maine, the No. 10 seed, took a 1-0 lead at 12:42 of the first period on a harmless-looking Jake Rutt wrist shot from the left point that found its way into the net. It was the fourth goal of the season for Rutt, a senior defenseman from Scarborough. And it was indicative of the kind of effort the Black Bears will need in Game 2, he said.

“We’ve got to put more pucks on the net because I think their goalie, when he was obstructed with either sight or there was a guy near, he was a little choppy with the puck and he was letting up rebounds,” Rutt said.

“I was able to fake (a shot) and I put it through. That’s kind of the game plan. You throw pucks at the net, good things happen.”

Gendron was pleased with his team’s performance except for a 10-minute stretch in the second period when being careless with the puck enabled Vermont to make it 1-1 on an Alexx Privitera power-play goal.

Gendron said he will ponder overnight whether to replace Morris with freshman Sean Romeo, but otherwise saw little that needs to change.

“I thought the third period we were every bit as good as they were,” Gendron said.

Vermont, the No. 7 seed, had lost its last five opening games in Hockey East playoff series. The Catamounts will look to complete the sweep, while Maine will attempt to force a third game at 7 p.m. Sunday.

“We’ll play desperate,” Rutt vowed. “I don’t think the game plan’s going to change at all. I don’t think our style of play’s going to change at all. We’ve just got to bring a little more grit, a little more tenacity around the net front and just be a little bit smarter with the puck.”