Roster flexibility is an asset that all coaches love. Claude Julien welcomes its addition to his tool box.

The Bruins are carrying 23 players, the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. The extra defenseman and two spare forwards give Julien the opportunity to use multiple looks based on opposing matchups and his players’ performance.

Daniel Paille, usually the fourth-line left wing, can move up to the third line with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley.

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On Sunday, in a 4-3 home loss to the Canadiens, Shawn Thornton was back in the lineup after being scratched against the Lightning. Chris Bourque was the healthy scratch.

Bourque’s benching seemed imminent. Bourque, skating on the fourth line Saturday, played a season-low 7 minutes 17 seconds. Bourque, one of the two point men on the No. 2 power play unit, was replaced in the third period by Dennis Seidenberg.

Thornton responded with one of his strongest games of the season. In 6:49 of ice time, Thornton recorded four shots and landed four hits. On one shift, Thornton dropped Alex Galchenyuk, then thumped P.K. Subban. Thornton was mean, snarling, and belligerent, playing like he was fighting for his job.

Just a day earlier, Thornton had gotten some unexpected news. The Bruins brought a five-game winning streak into Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay. Coaches don’t change their ties, much less their lineups, in such circumstances.

Yet during the day, Julien informed Thornton that he might be scratched that night in place of Jay Pandolfo. Thornton understood the decision.

“As long as he had a heads-up, you’re not catching a guy like that, a veteran, at the last minute and telling him, ‘By the way, you’re out,’ ” Julien explained.

“I do those kinds of things. But I don’t have to go into explanations. I don’t have time for that. Our guys know how we operate by now. There’s never been an issue about that.”

The move paid off in Boston’s 3-2 win. Paille assisted on Peverley’s tying goal. Adam McQuaid and Gregory Campbell fought Pierre-Cedric Labrie and B.J. Crombeen. Pandolfo logged 2:56 of shorthanded ice time because of the Bruins’ repeated trips to the penalty box.

“In this type of season, I think it’s important to have that kind of flexibility,” Julien said.

“We took Jay in there and it was a good thing we had him in there. With all the penalties we had, we needed some penalty killers. Jay’s a great penalty killer, so we had an extra guy to help us out.”

Fighting chance

The Bruins went a season-long seven games without logging a fight. In Saturday’s first period, McQuaid put a stop to that streak.

The Bruins had allowed two quick goals. They were looking for some life. McQuaid saw an opportunity.

After a whistle, Keith Aulie delivered an up-high jolt to Nathan Horton. McQuaid spotted the transgression and tried to address it. Labrie stepped in front of Aulie. McQuaid and Labrie dropped their gloves.

“It was a bit of a slow start,” McQuaid said. “I just wanted to get something going. I thought the guy kind of came in a little late on Horty, and it was offside. So I just came in to have some words. It just kind of erupted from there.”

It was McQuaid’s second fight of the season. His first scrap came Jan. 23 against the Rangers’ Brian Boyle. McQuaid also started that fight with his team trailing, 2-0.

A McQuaid flare-up led to the first fight on Sunday. McQuaid didn’t care for a hit by Lars Eller. Shortly after McQuaid and Eller tangled, Milan Lucic and Brandon Prust squared off.

Learning process

Dougie Hamilton scored his second goal of the season at 9:20 of the second period. Hamilton logged 19:14 of ice time, the most he’s played since he was on the ice for 20:04 against the Rangers on Feb. 12. That game was also on home ice, where Julien can take advantage of the last change. “It’s been about making sure that first of all, we win hockey games,” Julien said of managing Hamilton’s minutes. “Second of all, we put him in an area where he can grow and not in an area where he can get discouraged. There were some games where he struggled a bit more in certain areas of the game. Instead of exposing him, we pulled him back and worked with him after the game, the next day, showing him some video clips. He’s a quick learner. We’re going to develop him so he becomes an elite defenseman in this league.” . . . Aaron Johnson and Lane MacDermid joined Bourque in the press box as healthy scratches . . . Ex-Bruin Michael Ryder, in his second spin with the Canadiens, assisted on Tomas Plekanec’s game-opening power-play goal. Redux Ryder had just one shot in 19:22 of ice time . . . Carey Price has appeared in 26 games against the Bruins, but earned a rare night off. Peter Budaj was sharp in the win, denying Tyler Seguin in the final seconds. “He played well,” said coach Michel Therrien. “He deserved to be there tonight.”