PITTSBURGH - If Mike Richards was Batman, Matt Cooke would his Penguin - the antagonistic supervillian, and one of his oldest, most persistent and most elusive enemies.

Richards and Cooke have faced off 21 times since Cooke signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins as a free agent in 2008.

Cooke has talked trash, caused gashes, and even snacked on Arron Asham's finger once in a scrum last season when Asham was a member of the Flyers.

But Richards and Cooke have never fought. Richards said 2 weeks ago, when the Penguins routed the Flyers, 5-1, at the Wells Fargo Center, that he "chased" Cooke around, but he "wouldn't have anything to do with" fighting.

Last night, only 6 seconds after the puck dropped, Batman got ahold of the Penguin. And brought him to justice.

Richards and Cooke threw off their helmets in a spirited brawl, followed by Jody Shelley and Deryk Engelland 17 seconds later, popping the cap on one of the most memorable recent matchups in the Flyers-Penguins rivalry. It ended with the Flyers escaping with a 3-2 victory at Consol Energy Center.

"I think the things that were said last game probably just carried over," Richards said. "I was just trying to get the guys going. It was a big game for us."

Was it nice for Richards to finally take his anger out on the perpetually slippery Cooke?

"I don't know, I'm not going to say anything tonight, it's after a win, so I'll keep my mouth shut," Richards said. "It's nice to beat a division rival and to do it in their building. It showed that we were in the game right from the get-go."

Not only did the win start the Flyers' first string of consecutive wins this season, which catapulted them over the Penguins and into first place in the Atlantic Division, but it also commenced their first winning streak in Pittsburgh since Jan. 21, 2006.

That was way back in Sidney Crosby's rookie season.

"It's not an easy place to play," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "They have a good hockey team. You come in here, and it's tough. You really have to really work, you have to do things the right way, and you have to be really physical."

Pittsburgh was able to grab the early lead, in a first period that included 34 minutes in penalties and two full penalty boxes, when Kris Letang one-timed an Evgeni Malkin pass behind Sergei Bobrovsky.

But as the penalties subsided, the Flyers dug in and shoveled out of their hole, thanks in part to Claude Giroux. Richards connected with Giroux to send the 22-year-old on a shorthanded breakaway, where he deposited the puck top-shelf on Marc-Andre Fleury to knot the game at one.

Giroux now leads the NHL with three shorthanded goals this season after having none in his first three seasons.

"I'm not too sure how he saw me," Giroux said, "but he hit me right on the tape.

"It's hard to get in a rhythm when you have 15-second power plays, and you're not playing with your line, either. But in the second and third periods, we started winning battles."

Dan Carcillo, who returned to the lineup after being scratched in three of the previous five games, played only 54 seconds in the second period. He made the most of them, redirecting a Matt Carle point shot through Fleury's five-hole to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead.

"You need to chip in any way that you can when you're on the ice," Carcillo said. "We knew after the first game of the year here that they would come out hot. It's always a little surprising when your captain fights Matt Cooke. But there's always lot of anticipation and energy when we come into this building."

Giroux roofed a power-play goal with 9:17 remaining in the third period, which turned out to be the game-winner after Tyler Kennedy scored with 46.4 seconds left and the Penguins net empty.

Giroux was pushing to score the special-teams hat trick, with a power play, shorthanded and either empty-net or even-strength goal. He will settle for two goals and the win.

"You saw in the first period that we don't like each other," Giroux said. "I wish we could play these games all the time."

Slap shots

The Flyers host the Islanders tonight, who lost to Montreal, 3-1, on Long Island last night . . . Nikolay Zherdev was a healthy scratch last night. Zherdev, who signed a 1-year, $2 million deal in the offseason, was coming off possibly his best game as a Flyer on Tuesday. He has two goals and no assists in nine games . . . Skating with Mike Richards and James van Riemsdyk, Andreas Nodl played a season-high 15:04. It was the most ice time he had seen since a call-up on Nov. 15, 2008, when he played 16:50 in Montreal. *

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DNFlyers.