MIKE RICHARDS and Alex Ovechkin, like ex-girlfriends, have a history.

Ovechkin, skating in his third and final World Junior Championships in 2005, was knocked out of the gold-medal game with a dislocated shoulder - courtesy of Richards and Team Canada.

Ovechkin's Russian team beat up the United States in the semifinals of that tournament. Team Canada, sitting in the stands, watched Ovechkin excessively taunt the United States. Richards, as Captain Canada, took offense and led the assault on Ovechkin the next game.

It is a feud that has spilled over to the NHL. Richards is the only player who Ovechkin has ever fought in an NHL game. The fact that it occurred in the preseason should tell you something about its depth.

Ovechkin and Richards were back at it again last night at the Wachovia Center - putting a 2009-10 spin on their heated rivalry - by jawing multiple times after the whistle and exchanging shoves and verbal assaults.

Both players entered the NHL in 2005-06, after the lockout, but Ovechkin has dominated Richards and the Flyers thus far.

That changed last night.

Richards bested Ovechkin with a hat trick and lifted the Flyers (3-0-0 for the first time since 1998-99) to a thrilling, 6-5 overtime victory over Washington in their home opener at the Wachovia Center. Danny Briere scored his first goal of the season, 3 minutes and 52 seconds into the extra period.

Richards' hat trick was the first ever by a Flyer in a home opener.

"He's an easy guy to get up for,'' Richards said. "If you're not ready to play, he's going to hurt you. He takes advantage of his opportunities and he's fun to watch.''

After a scoreless first period, Richards scored the first of three Flyers' power-goal goals 1:37 into the second. But Ovechkin answered just 67 seconds later. The two teams traded seven goals that period, with Ovechkin netting his second, culminating in Richards' two goals in a span of 18 seconds to turn the trick.

Head to head, Ovechkin has posted 34 points in 23 games against the Flyers, while Richards has managed just 18 against Washington in the same span. But last night, Richards also led in other areas of the stat sheet with six shots on goal and a game-high four hits.

"It is a big battle,'' Ovechkin said. "He is a great player. Richards, [Chris] Pronger and [Kimmo] Timonen are great defensive players, so it is always good.''

Matt Carle was one of the benefactors of Richards' explosion. Carle posted four assists in the second period, setting a Flyers record for assists in a period by a defenseman and tying the NHL record previously set by Rob Blake in 1998.

"I have never had that happen before," Carle said. "It was a good period. It seemed like one of those things where every time you passed or threw the puck on net, it turned into something good.''

No matter the spark Richards provided, Brendan Morrison put the result in doubt with his much-debated goal halfway through the third period that gave Washington a 5-4 lead. Morrison's skate pushed the puck behind Ray Emery in what looked like a kicking motion, but it was not overturned by the NHL replay officials in Toronto.

But Scott Hartnell poked a power-play puck past Washington netminder Jose Theodore with just 4:15 to play that gave the Flyers new life.

Richards had a chance to play hero in overtime. Racing for a loose puck against Ovechkin (who else?), Richards tried to get a shot off but his stick snapped into two pieces.

Instead, Briere played the part, knocking in a rebound with a little less than a minute remaining.

"All of us were talking about it after the game,'' Carle said. "You know going into the game it's going to be a battle. But we certainly gave the fans their money's worth tonight.''

Injury report

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren announced after the game that center Blair Betts will miss at least 4 weeks with a dislocated right shoulder.

Betts left the game after falling awkwardly on his stick just seconds after taking an important faceoff with 40 seconds left in regulation.

Rookie forward James van Riemsdyk crashed into the boards midway through the second period and needed to be helped off the ice by trainer Jim McCrossin. Van Riemsdyk returned to play two shifts in the third period. Holmgren said that van Riemsdyk had "his bell rung'' and will be re-evaluated today for a possible concussion.

Slap shots

This is the 10th time in Flyers history they have opened the season with a 3-0-0 record . . . The Wachovia Center ice crew collected 492 hats and 104 T-shirts from the ice when Mike Richards netted his hat trick . . . Ian Laperriere dropped the gloves with Washington's Matt Bradley in the first period. We'll chalk that up as a win for Laperriere . . . The Flyers were 3-for-8 on the power play and limited Washington to just 1-for-5 with the man advantage. Two of those three power-play goals were from Richards.

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.