WATCH: Woodriffe with Zetterberg, Blashill & Howard after 1-0 loss

The Washington Capitals are in first place because of victories like this.

Philipp Grubauer made 39 saves for his third shutout of the season, and Brett Connolly scored the game's only goal on a third-period breakaway to lift the Capitals to a 1-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night. Washington was far from dominant, but the Capitals created the game's best scoring chance and that was enough.

"I know they had a lot of shots, but this was a pretty easy game," Grubauer said. "The guys kept the front of the net clear, so I could see everything they were taking."

Washington is last in the NHL in shots per game, but the Capitals have won six of seven and lead Pittsburgh and Columbus by four points atop the Metropolitan Division as the regular season winds down.

Washington has turned increasingly to Grubauer of late after Braden Holtby struggled in February and at the beginning of March. Holtby wasn't available Thursday because of an injury coach Barry Trotz described as a tweak.

The Capitals took the lead with 13:19 remaining after Detroit defenseman Xavier Ouellet couldn't control the puck near Washington's blue line. Connolly and teammate Jakub Vrana went the other way on a two-man breakaway , and Connolly beat Jimmy Howard with a wrist shot to the glove side.

Connolly has 15 goals this season on 64 shots.

"You can get too cute on a 2-on-0, and I didn't want to mess it up," Connolly said. "I think Howard was expecting a pass, but I haven't had many good looks in the last few games, so I was taking this one. I needed it."

Howard was indeed expecting a pass.

"The way Vrana opened up for the one-timer, I was expecting at least one pass," Howard said. "He caught me by surprise there."

Detroit has lost 11 of 12 and was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. The Red Wings will miss the postseason for a second consecutive season.

The Red Wings had a goal called back for goalie interference in the first period - replays showed Tyler Bertuzzi appearing to make contact with Grubauer in front of the net. Detroit squandered a great opportunity in the second when the Red Wings had a two-man advantage for the full 2:00.

"Gru was the difference in the game. Detroit had a great game plan and really used their speed to box us up," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "We were in a lot of tough spots, but Gru kept making the big saves we needed. We just need to score a few more goals for him."

Andreas Athanasiou had a breakaway in the third, but couldn't beat Grubauer . Athanasiou had another chance in the final minutes, but his deflected shot went wide as Grubauer tried unsuccessfully to grab it with his glove.

NOTES: The Red Wings announced before the game that D Mike Green will have season-ending surgery on his cervical spine. "This dates back to a year ago, basically. He's played through it. We knew at some point that this was inevitable," coach Jeff Blashill said. "I know there was some wondering why Green wasn't traded. Well, this was why, because teams knew that if again, if he took the wrong hit, he might be out." ... Capitals F Evgeny Kuznetsov missed a third straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Washington signed D Tobias Geisser to a three-year entry-level contract beginning in the 2018-19 season, and the Capitals also recalled G Pheonix Copley from the Hershey Bears.


Capitals: Visit the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.

Red Wings: Visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.